Words: Simon Button; Photography: Pamela Raith
Let’s get the cliches out of the way: Amélie The Musical is as delicious as a soufflé, as tasty as a croissant and as delightful as an evening stroll by the Seine.
But this musical adaptation of the 2001 film doesn’t employ any of the cliches you’d expect from a Paris-set story. There are no baguettes in bicycle baskets, no striped T-shirts, no berets, no ‘Ooh la la’ moments of farcical hilarity.
Instead, just like the movie on which it is based, it is a work of breathtaking originality - witty, whimsical and, despite running a little long, quite wonderful.
Assuming the role that Audrey Tatou played in the film, Audrey Brisson is perfect as the titular heroine, a waitress in Montmartre with a vivid imagination and a compulsion to help others. She’s eccentric (when a customer writes his phone number on the bill she swallows it), a daydreamer and a do-gooder who, discovering a box of memorabilia in her apartment, sets out to find the former tenant who left it there.
To detail much more about the plot would spoil the show’s many surprises, but Amélie becomes a matchmaker for folk around her whilst circling around her own chance at romantic bliss. And she’s surrounded by colourful characters who, under the direction of Michael Fentiman, are vividly alive as they spar and spat.
The staging is full of quirky touches. The actors also play the music, young Amélie is portrayed by a puppet, there’s a singing fish, our heroine ascends to her apartment by hitching a ride on a rising lampshade, she poses as a nun whilst visiting a sex shop, and there’s a spot-on Elton John pastiche that posits her as France’s answer to Lady Di.
When the musical opened in New York in 2017, it baffled Broadway and only lasted a couple of months. But the UK revival, which premiered at The Other Palace in 2019, is a triumph of charm and imagination, with a lovely score by Daniel Messé that not only enriches the story but propels it forward.
Said story is a little dragged out in the second act, but the finale is one of the most heartwarming I’ve ever witnessed. And the show couldn’t be more timely. Currently playing to a socially-distanced audience, it’s all about human connection - which makes Amélie The Musical the show we all need right now.
Amélie The Musical is at the Criterion Theatre, London, until September 25th. For tickets, click here.