Missed The Boat: Amélie

Amélie Photo credit: Joan Marcus

This is another missed opportunity from last year’s New York trip – particularly given that it was still in previews when I was over there, so potentially a slightly lower demand and price range… But it wasn’t to be (as you know, I didn’t end up seeing any show in a Broadway theater) and given that it closed fairly early it’s absolutely one for this category. Amélie is my favourite French film, and where I first discovered the magical Audrey Tautou; the prospect of seeing it performed onstage was an intriguing one, with the film’s slightly quirky and surreal nature – plus there were puppets involved! I also own the OST for the film, with compositions from Yann Tiersen – it’s such dreamy music that really evokes the spirit of Paris.

Obviously with this being a musical adaptation there was bound to be new music (in fact, the germ of an idea for the show came from a song the composing team wrote in 2013 in response to seeing the Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Guillaume Laurant film). Daniel Messé composed the music, as well as writing lyrics with Nathan Tysen – Craig Lucas was responsible for the book. The show began its life in California, premièring at Berkeley Rep, before moving to LA’s Ahmanson Theater and then finally moving across the country to make its Broadway debut at the Walter Kerr Theater.


Amélie Photo credit: Joan Marcus

I think this one has to go down as the first real disappointment of this blog series. I’m only going from the sound of it rather than the full picture, but you don’t often get a good musical when you’re working with quite bland songs… The OST is a lot to live up to, though you wouldn’t want to try and replicate it in any way, it has resulted in a set of typical musical theatre-sounding songs which are rather devoid of character – and don’t transport you to Paris (or Amélie’s fantastical imagination) in any way at all. It’s not like it needs to be overwhelming (Kooman & Dimond’s score for Romantics Anonymous managed to bring a bal-musette flavour without descending into stereotype), but surely Paris’ presence should be acknowledged in some way? If only to make it less generic.

I’m also a bit on the fence about the amount of singing Amélie does; I think that’s one thing that seeing the show would definitely have settled. The songs are seen mostly as Amélie’s way of communicating what’s going on in her head – fair enough, as theatre is a practice of the suspension of disbelief, and I do generally feel like the songs in musicals should have some emotional purpose rather than just describing what’s going on. However, one of the most charming things about the film is how little Amélie actually says, yet you always know what’s going on (particularly from the mischievous glint in her eye). It’s hard to see how these little mannerisms would translate in an auditorium seating almost 1,000 though…


Amélie Photo credit: Joan Marcus

There also seems to be a lot of focus on the young Amélie, though this at least didn’t translate to a padded out production (the running time was around two hours). Perhaps I’m doing too much comparing rather than trying to see the show as a piece in its own right, though when something is so well-loved it can be hard not to.

The inimitable (& almost ubiquitous) Phillipa Soo took over the title role from Samantha Barks once it reached LA, and continued on Broadway, so the quality of the vocal performance is never in doubt. However you just can’t feel the charm and spirit of Amélie’s world through this cast recording, and so it doesn’t surprise me too much that it closed after so few performances; it had a better reception in California, in slightly smaller venues, so perhaps if it were to have a new life in the future it might be better off out of the large theaters with a tweak or two to the music to make it a bit more interesting.


Amélie – A New Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording) was released on 18 May 2017 on Warner Classics. You can buy the album online.

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