AMELIE The Musical
The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 22nd July, 2019
Based on the acclaimed French film of 2001, this new musical (and English) version with its romanticised vision of Paris is in Birmingham this week. Although the story includes historical details (mainly concerning the Princess of Wales) this Paris is a highly stylised, mythical place, where anything (including singing goldfish and giant fig men) can and does happen. Our protagonist is Amélie, a young woman whose sheltered upbringing has made it nigh on impossible to form a loving relationship with a bloke. She devotes her life to helping others anonymously and it all goes rather well until handsome Nino enters the mix…
Madeleine Girling’s elegantly versatile two-tier set is the backdrop for the action: a ticket office serves as a confessional, the pianos become café display cabinets, and so on, with Amélie repeatedly ascending to her flat on the upper level, Mary Poppins-like with the aid of a lampshade. The stage is populated by the other characters – the cast all double roles and play musical instruments, to the extent that at some points the main action is crowded out by the hustle and bustle of the musicians. It all sounds great, the playing and the singing are fine, I just wish some of them would clear off every once in a while to give the story more space, and to give certain scenes sharper focus.
In the title role, Audrey Brisson gives a phenomenal performance, augmenting Amélie ’s otherness with her physicality. Movements and gestures are sharp and precise, her timing is immaculate, and her singing is strong and sweet. Her native French accent is not as pronounced as the phoney French accents of the rest of the cast; I would have preferred English accents, like a dubbed version of the film – the musical arrangements and the art deco scenery are more than enough to ground the story in Parisienne colour.
Danny Mac is perfectly dreamy as Nino. Mac is steadily becoming one of our most dependable musical theatre stars. His singing has warmth and range, and he makes a charismatic figure, but there are a few moments when the accent intrudes a little.
The main action of the story takes a while to get going: the first act is heavy with back-story and exposition, and so this lightweight story with folk-tale elements suffers from a running time that feels overlong, and while I find the staging inventive and charming on the whole, director Michael Fentiman keeps his stage too busy for me to engage with the action completely. There is a strong Emma Rice feel to the proceedings with the onstage actor-musicians and the delightful puppetry, yet the show’s most powerful moment takes place in complete silence.
A confection of a show, where the whimsicality of the story is offset by the wistfulness of the score, Amélie the Musical is perhaps not for all tastes. I find it a little cluttered but its heart is definitely in the right place.