Amélie the Musical brings to life on The King’s Theatre Edinburgh stage for one week only (Tuesday 25th to Saturday 29th June) the wonderfully individual world of Amélie Poulain so many people first fell in love with when they saw the original 2001 film Amélie (also known as “Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain”).
It was a lot later than 2001 when I saw this film, but like so many people before me I was captivated by Amélie, her family and friends. Here, on screen, was a very stylish and typically French film full of fun, quirkiness and individual style. The world that Amélie was born into was a very strange one for any child and that coloured her life as a young woman as she left home for Paris. I have to admit that there were major concerns running through my head when I found out this film was being turned into a musical (not another one, I thought), and how they were going to capture the slightly off-centre world that shy little Amélie lived in and above all those wonderful facial expressions of Audrey Tautou in the film.
The often very quirky and very French nature of French films often means they do poorly overseas, but this one was a huge success across the world, but was it going to survive the transition to musical theatre and still retain any of its individuality? That was my biggest concern here.
From the first few moments on stage it is obvious that Amélie the Musical is not Amélie the film, but it retains so much of the feel of the film while at the same time creating its own individual world and style, and Craig Lucas has done a wonderful job of writing the theatrical book for this production and somehow managing to create something old and new at the same time. To enjoy this musical you do not have to have seen the film at all as the narrative introduces you to Amélie, her world, and everyone in it.
Bringing this narrative to extra life is the added idea of our story being told to a back-drop of very French musicians and, from a musical theatre viewpoint, Amélie is one of the most original and charming new works to arrive on stage for many years. The music here is simply wonderful and Daniel Messé (music and lyrics) and Nathan Tysen (lyrics) have written music and songs to match Amélie’s world perfectly. I am always drawn to lyric writers for some reason, and here so much of the emotional depth of this production is in their words. In music and lyrics we seem to be weaving a musical journey through the music of Edith Piaf (think “Padam Padam” to the beat of Parisian café music and young lovers’ hearts), The Beatles and their descriptive lyrical worlds of “Penny Lane” and “A Day In The Life” and the feel of the music of Elton John (who plays a central role here too), and it all comes together into something very unique but perfect for this story.
Amélie is of course about Amélie, and here French-Canadian Audrey Brisson is absolutely perfect for the role, and it is obvious in this portrayal that Audrey has her own great affection for both the character and the film. Somehow, Audrey Brisson has managed to bring all of the shyness and quirkiness of Amélie to the stage and made it her own whilst retaining that ability to move, often unseen, in and out of the lives of the people around her. Audrey is always the star here, but always leaving enough room on stage for our other characters to live and breathe too.
Matching perfectly our shy and introvert Amélie is the equally “odd-ball” Nino played so well here by Danny Mac. The two are a perfect on stage match and as an audience member you just hope in your heart that things work out for them.
There are no weak performances here, everyone is as they should be with Gina (Sophie Crawford), Georgette (Faoileann Cunningham), Hippolyto (Caolan McCarthy), Joseph (Samuel Morgan-Grahame), Suzanne (Kate Robson-Stuart), Raphael and Amandine Poulain (Jez Unwin and Rachel Dawson) and everyone else all creating this beautiful wonderland that Amélie lives in.
The design of this stage set and Amélie’s world is as much a part of this production as anyone on stage and here designer Madeleine Girling has created a wonderful world of visuals full of imagination. In this “magical world” Amélie even becomes a little bit like a French Mary Poppins. Tight direction by Michael Fentiman also makes sure that everything in this world is where it should be when it should be. The solution to our portrayal on stage of Amélie as a small child is creative, charming, and as wonderfully “off-centre” as everything else in this story, and I’m not going to tell you how this is achieved, go and see the show.
Amélie the film was (and still is) one of my favourite films in many years, and Amélie the Musical has just become one of my favourite works of stage (not just musical theatre) in many years. It is one of those rare occasions when everything and everyone is simply falling into place, and this is, if there is any justice in the world of theatre, a cult classic in the making that is going to be around for a very long time to come.
Review by Tom King