Amelie: The Musical at Criterion Theatre
Amelie, the 2001 film, has an odd reputation. Its whimsical, touristic view of one oddball’s search for meaning within a picturesque Paris is derided for the same reasons that it is adored. With its large cast of characters and episodic structure, it is perfect fodder for a musical adaptation, and an uplifting return to theatres.
Playwright Craig Lucas writes the book with lyrics by Daniel Messé (who writes the music) and Nathan Tysen. They have delivered a brisk, funny version of this shaggy-dog tale, that improves on the mawkish film through sheer force of will. By throwing everything at the wall, the impressively playful company deliver one of the most purely entertaining shows in recent memory.
Amelie Poulin, an awkward singleton living alone in Paris in 1997, is shocked when Lady Diana is killed in a car crash. It leads her to discover a box of childhood toys hidden in her apartment, and she sets off on the trail of its rightful owner. French-Canadian actor Audrey Brisson (a standout in the otherwise maudlin The Grinning Man) finds a role fit for her vast talents here. As Amelie, she uses her petite frame to pit herself against the Parisian crowds, belting out numbers with a magnetic power that captures the character’s joy, alienation and desire.
She is well supported by a cast of actor-musicians. As Amelie continues to search for serendipitous moments and random acts of kindness, the company swap roles and instruments with ease. Samuel Morgan-Grahame is a standout, playing at times a goldfish, a telephone and a sex pest. Jez Unwin, who plays Amelie’s sad-sack father, gives a heartbreaking performance with real pathos. As he switches characters, the emotional throughline he brings to his various roles unearths otherwise hidden parallels.
This new age oneness is the musical’s stock in trade. It’s a mock profundity that might irk a viewer looking for a coherent vision. This postcard version of Paris is noticeably white, shrinking darker skinned actors into the depths of the company. Perhaps that reflects Paris itself, which is in constant tension between its highly diverse population and the refined French tradition it prides itself upon. Amelie: The Musical isn’t trying to make a statement – it’s having too much fun for that. But in its presentation of a fractured city that needs a vigilante to cheer its citizens up, it reflects fractured urban living. Viewers should try not to think about it too much.
Photo: Matt Crockett
Amelie: The Musical is at Criterion Theatre from 3rd June until 23rd September 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.