It seems that these days almost every good indie film is being turned into a musical and transferred to the stage. Some have been successful, with Waitress securing a prestigious, lengthy run on London’s West End. Others have been viewed as failures, like Little Miss Sunshine. Even the iconic 80s classic, Back to the Future has been unable to evade musical adaptation. It seems almost predictable then that one of the most loved French films, Amélie fell prey to it. One of my favourite films, I have to admit to feeling apprehensive when I heard it had been translated into a musical.
My fears were allayed before the show even started, as soon as I laid eyes on the stunning set design from Madeleine Girling. The Parisian setting that makes Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film so enchanting is beautifully rendered as the stage is transformed into a Métropolitain station. This is flexibly adapted to different locations, including the Two Windmills Café, by the cast moving furniture and scenery, providing seamless scene transitions.
The large ensemble cast is comprised of incredibly talented actor-musicians, who lay their instruments aside when they inhabit their characters. This reinforces the fluidity of the piece, without the need for a pit orchestra. Like The Hired Man at Oldham Coliseum, the instruments blend naturally with the play’s action, and don’t cause unnecessary distractions. I am repeatedly awestruck at the sheer skill of performers who can sing, act and play instruments.
Daniel Messé‘s musical score is divine, reflecting the Parisian spirit by including instruments like an accordian and violin, synonymous with buskers that line the streets in the French capital. The songs are great too, exquisitely capturing the quirkiness that makes the film so appealing. Amélie’s bizarre daydreams are realised in true comedic fashion. She imagines her own funeral, complete with Elton John singing her eulogy, wearing angel wings. We are also treated to a singing garden gnome, and three gigantic demonic figs. The songs are brilliantly funny and hugely entertaining.
Where this play truly succeeds is in the beautifully rendered relationship between its two romantic leads. French-Canadian stage and screen actress Audrey Brisson is wonderful in the role of Amélie. Her tiny stature suitably fits her character’s painfully shy personality, allowing Amélie to slip in the shadows, performing small acts of kindness, completely unseen. To Nino, she frustratingly remains an illusive figure. Brisson cleverly avoids trying to imitate Audrey Tautou, and makes the role her own. She has an incredible vocal range, and plays the piano, creating a character who is a joy to listen to, as well as watch.
Likewise, Danny Mac is perfect as Nino Quincampoix. His rich vocals are inflected with a convincing French accent, and the chemistry he shares with Brisson is magnetic. Although they spend most of the play apart, there is always a compelling attraction between the two characters that is delightfully charming to watch. The pair manage to make you fall in love with their characters, as they fall for each other. Their relationship is beautifully romantic, and this is captured in the couple’s breathtaking meet-cute, as Nino adorably meets Amélie through the glass of the cafe’s menu.
Amélie is a delightfully charming musical that is as heart-warming as a stroll down the Seine on a summer evening. It translates perfectly to the stage, successfully retaining the film’s iconic quirkiness.