Words by Simon Button
There’s a moment in Amour where a character eats a chocolate eclair as if it’s the most delicious and decadent thing she’s ever tasted.
The same could be said of the show, which features lush music by Michel Legrand and often hilariously lascivious lyrics by Jeremy Sams. It’s delightful and naughty and leaves a lovely aftertaste.
Originally produced in Legrand’s native Paris in 1997, the musical was a flop when translated and expanded for Broadway in 2002 and perhaps understandably so.
Telling of a wallflower civil servant named Dusoleil who suddenly finds himself able to walk through walls, it’s too weird and whimsical a tale for a big auditorium and Legrand’s sung-through score - which flits between aching love songs and comic romps - doesn’t play by the rules.
But scaled to fit the intimate Charing Cross Theatre, with the audience on either side of a central stage, the show (which is getting its first-ever professional UK production) works wonderfully.
You’re so close to the action that you feel transported back the 1950 Paris setting and designer Adrian Gee and lighting maestro Rob Halliday make inventive use of just a few props, like suitcases that double for typewriters and cine cameras and umbrellas lit from within.
The story is a mere soufflé: Dusoleil uses his new gift to help the Parisienne poor and to woo the girl of his dreams, an unhappily married beauty named Isabelle.
But Gary Tushaw, who has a nice line in nerdiness coupled with a voice that’s as rich as the young Michael Ball’s, and Anna O’Byrne, who sings like an angel, make their plight a compelling one.
And the show is peopled with colourful characters like a bawdy Brechtian prostitute (played with comic brilliance by Claire Machin), a Dickensian duo of bumbling policemen and a nasty boss who gets the shock of his life when his employee’s head begins to poke through the office walls.
The boss’s big song features the clever trick of delaying syllables so that for a split second ‘country’ becomes really filthy (say it out loud and you’ll get what I mean!) and the wordplay (rhyming ‘cloister’ with ‘oyster’) and lyrics are delectable.
I mean, in what other musical are you likely to hear ‘A blowjob is better than no job’ or ‘Why does Tyrone Power live with Errol Flynn?’?
Amour is at Charing Cross Theatre, London, until July 20th. For great deals on tickets and shows click here.
Images by Scott Rylander