Review: Amélie The Musical. (touring) Haymarket Theatre Leicester. 9-13 July 2019

It is very rare that this reviewer would go and see the same show more than once. However- in the case of eventually enjoying cette totalement charmant production théâtrale of Amélie The Musical a total of four times seems hardly enough. If you thrill to a quirky love story set in Paris, a story that is, beguiling, inventive, real musical theatre heaven with great acting, singing and live musicianship book yourself a ticket right now. In fact don’t waste time booking for just one night but book again for another glorious viewing during the week’s run because to see Amélie The Musical only once is to miss another chance at falling in love with this superb show. Ça vaut vraiment la peine. C’est vraiment génial! It’s definitely worth the effort. It’s bloody grand.

Amélie The Musical is based on the acclaimed 2001 French film Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain which had the foreshortened English title Amélie. It was a romantic comedy hit worldwide written by Guillaume Laurent and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It launched the career of actress Audrey Tautou. The film’s soundtrack by Yann Tierson also proved tremendously popular. Interestingly the English actress Emily Watson was first considered for the film’s role of Amélie Poulain but her French language skills weren’t sufficient enough.

For this UK stage musical theatre adaptation of Amélie The Musical we look to the talents of Craig Lucas, Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen. They have had a long history with the material, having worked on three iterations of the piece in America and have re-worked it substantially for a UK audience. It seems an odd thing to say but the UK version is a lot more French in style and accents and this is helped considerably by the casting of the brilliant Audrey Brisson – a French Canadian – in the title role of Amélie Poulain.

The songs in this virtually sung through musical have great appeal and wit and are tremendously catchy. The new arrangements using actor-musicians live on stage work so well in the episodic story telling. The need for a child actress to play and sing the part of young Amélie is sensibly removed from this UK and Ireland touring production directed with creativity and élan by Mike Fentiman. Ne crains pas, (fear not) the vital childhood part of Amélie’s story is definitely still there but conveyed in a more creative and imaginative way by the cast and canny puppetry.

The whole show is a poetic collage of characters and events that conjures up a sense of loneliness, personal desperation and more than a little magic in the bustling metropolis of nineties Paris. Set designer Madeleine Girling has created an utterly brilliant set that aids magnificently the illusion of being in Paris. The clever visual shortcuts of bringing the Montmartre Café des Deux Moulins, le Sex Shop and Collignon’s marchands de légumes (greengrocery) alive on stage through opening up the back of two artefact filled upright pianos is genius.

Equally so is Amélie’s aerial transportation to her bijou apartment set in the upper part of the set. The palates of deep green, golden yellow and raspberry red work superbly in the whole feel of this glorious show. The incredible lighting design by Elliot Griggs and sound design by Tom Marshall all pull together to make a totally engrossing production.

Audrey Brisson makes Amélie Poulain her, very adorable and fallible, own and her character has a deeper sense of world and romance dissociation than that shown in the 2001 film. Brisson’s singing is super sharp note perfect and full of Gallic emotion, longing and tenderness. Her movement style is strongly influenced by her extensive work as a lead vocal and acrobatic performer with Cirque Du Soleil. This reviewer’s personal song favourites from Brisson include The Sound of Going Round In Circles, World’s Best Friend/Papa/Mama, The Bottle Drops, Sister’s Pickle, Times Are Hard For Dreamers and Stay.

Her co-star Danny Mac as, discarded photo booth picture obsessive, and romantic possibility, Nino Quincampoix, plays the curious cat and mouse game well. It is interesting to witness this reserved and gentle and bearded character Nino in contrast to Danny Mac’s previous more- out there – lead roles in Sunset Boulevard and White Christmas. His main songs How To Tell Time and When The Booth Goes Bright and Where Do We Go From Here are beautifully expressed. There is a touching chemistry between Danny Mac and Audrey Brisson that, heureusement ou remercier Dieu, is not a boring straight forward girl meets boy instantly falling in love type relationship. The emotional and personal journey is much more flawed and fascinating than that.

There are sixteen actor-musicians in Amélie The Musical, seven of whom double up in differing roles. Without exception, they are all exceptionally good with stand out muso-performances from Rachel Dawson (Amandine Poulain/Philomene), Oliver Grant (Lucien/mysterious man), Samuel Morgan-Grahame (Joseph/Fluffy), Jez Unwin (Raphael Poulain/ Dominique Bretodeau), Johnson Willis (Collignon/ Raymond Dufayel ‘The Glass Man’), and Faoileann Cunningham (hypochondriac Georgette/Sylvie). Kate Robson Stuart is sympathetic as ex circus performer now cafe owner Suzanne and Caolan McCarthy as a fantasy Elton John brings the first half to a roaring close with the song Goodbye Amélie.

The overall attention to detail in this fine touring production of Amélie The Musical is phenomenal and after this current tour is over there is talk of a European tour. In this reviewer’s opinion this most excellent show could easily hold a place in London’s West End. Onwards and Upwards! Vers le haut et vers le haut! Now get booking those ticket/s! Vous ne le regretterez pas. You won’t regret it not for one second in your life ever – honestly.

     Imagination, dreams and aspiration. Amélie. The perfect musical…

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

Amélie The Musical runs at Leicester Haymarket Theatre 9-13 July 2019. Note Danny Mac is not performing Sat 13th July.

Other tour dates ICI.

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