Danny Coleman-Cooke reviews Amour the musical by Michel Legrand and Jeremy Sams now playing at the Charing Cross Theatre.
Charing Cross Theatre
9 May 2019
Amour is certainly my favourite ever musical theatre flop. I enjoyed the Royal Academy of Music’s superlative student production four years ago so much that as soon as I got home I scoured the Internet to track down the (surprisingly hard to find) cast recording.
Many plays and listens later, it remains amongst my favourite musical scores and I always felt that it was an injustice that it received such a poor reception on Broadway, where it closed after only two weeks.
So I was delighted to see that Amour was coming to London for its first professional production in the UK. As lyricist Jeremy Sams admits in the programme, Amour was too whimsical and intimate for a big Broadway theatre, and it feels much more at home under the railway arches of Charing Cross.
The songs of Oscar-winning composer Michel Legrand (who sadly died earlier this year) remain an absolute delight and are brought to life superbly by Jordan Li-Smith’s band. Legrand’s songs are characteristically dreamlike and enchanting, with a series of catchy melodies.
The music is bolstered by the witty and clever lyrics by Jeremy Sams. Not only are there some ingenious rhymes (“seen conferring with Hermann Goering”) and (“When I saw you at your desk/ I thought that you were Kafka-esque), but there is enough humour and cynicism in the lyrics to keep the show grounded and it stops it from becoming too saccharine.
A sung-through musical is no easy feat but the show zips along, with a deft mix of poignancy and humour and an unexpectedly bittersweet finale that took the audience by surprise.
The star of the show is Dusoleil (Gary Tushaw), a kind but dreary office clerk who gains the power to walk through walls. It is not easy to make an engaging character out of someone who describes himself as “a mere civil servant, not worthy of mention”. But Tushaw makes a great fist of it, with a powerful singing voice and a solid sense of comic timing.
Elsewhere, Anna O’Byrne is typically brilliant as Dusoleil’s love interest Isabelle, and Elissa Churchill covers multiple roles with panache as part of the ensemble.
My one reservation about this production is that too often the biting satire too often gave way to slapstick, which robbed some of the comic scenes of their potency.
For example, the songs ‘Office Life’ and ‘Duseoli’s Revenge’ are both sharp satires of workplace life, in my mind part of the same vein of comedy as Terry Gillam’s Brazil.
However, there was a tendency towards mugging and slapstick in the performances and the choreography (particularly the boss, played by Steven Serlin), whereas playing it straight could have more effectively brought the humour out of Sam’s lyrics.
Overall though, this is a joyful production that feels very much in its element as an intimate chamber musical. Combining Gallic charm and elegance with acerbic British wit, Amour is a fairytale evening; go and see it while you can.