Mark Ludmon reviews Amélie The Musical starring Audrey Brisson now playing at The Other Palace in London
From the moment the melancholy strains of an accordion break the silence, Amelie The Musical wraps you in its warm-hearted embrace. After a lukewarm reception on Broadway, the stage version of the hit French movie has been massively reworked under director Mike Fentiman into a charming, warm-hearted show that captures the quirkiness and wit of the original 2001 film without cloying sentimentality.
With an ensemble of actor-musicians, it tells the story of a young woman who cuts herself off from personal contact with other people after being brought up by a buttoned-up father and neurotic mother. Like a hidden puppeteer, she is inspired by the death of Princess Diana to perform anonymous acts of kindness around Paris to change people’s lives while continuing to deny her own longing for love until an equally idiosyncratic young man enters her life.
With superb string-heavy orchestrations from Barnaby Race and Samuel Wilson, Daniel Messé’s music sweeps the story along, with a number of beautiful and haunting melodies that stay with you. Fragments of the narrative are drowned out by the energy and spectacle of the production but the book by Craig Lucas and lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Messé are sharply written with dashes of delightful black humour.
The 13-strong cast fill the stage with a colourful variety of characters, intricately choreographed by Tom Jackson Greaves in a style that often recalls physical theatre. Chris Jared is excellent as love interest Nino but French-Canadian actor Audrey Brisson shines as Amelie in a funny, poignant and mesmerising performance. Aided by Tom Marshall’s sound design and Elliot Griggs’s lighting, Madeleine Girling’s set cleverly conjures up the boulevards, cafés and Métro trains of Paris, with some visually striking details.
Eighteen years on from Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film, the show feels more relevant than ever in this digital age even though it is still set in 1997. As one of the recurring lyrics insists, “everyone’s connected though they may not understand” – a powerful message at a time when the world feels so disconnected. This is the uplifting, feelgood musical that we need right now, not only full of heart but also full of hope.
Stop Press: Amelie is now running at the Criterion Theatre London