My first thought on hearing that Jean Pierre-Jeunet’s 2001 movie had been turned into a stage musical was ‘how the hell are they going to pull that off?’ The answer? With charm and élan. Unlike so many recent ‘film-to-stage’ adaptations, which are merely attempts to slavishly copy the look and feel of the original, Amélie: the Musical is an accomplished theatrical experience in its own right.
It is, off course, the story of Amélie Poulain (Audrey Brisson), a shy loner who lives her life vicariously through the experiences of others. As a child (where she is adorably portrayed by a puppet), her eccentric parents convince themselves that their little girl is suffering from a rare heart condition and subsequently deny her all contact with the outside world. Little wonder she turns out as she does.
After her mother’s bizarre death and her father’s increasing isolation, Amelie realises she needs to seek new horizons. She packs a bag and heads off to Paris, where she takes a job as a waitress in a little café and becomes increasingly involved in the lives of her colleagues, customers and neighbours. She also bumps into Nino (Danny Mac) on the Metro, a young man who has a strange preoccupation with public photo-booths. She immediately feels a powerful attraction to him – but how will she ever overcome her shyness and summon up the courage to speak to him?
There’s an ensemble cast of sixteen actors, all of whom play musical instruments and most of whom are onstage throughout, providing a haunting accompaniment to the action. The songs by Nathan Tyson and Daniel Messé are memorable – I particularly enjoy the sequence where Amélie fantasises that she is the recently deceased Princess Diana, and Elton John (Caolin McCarthy) delivers a heartfelt elegy to mark her passing. Special mention should also be made of Madeleine Girling’s ingenious set design, which, with a few minor adjustments, manages to transform itself into a whole series of locations, as the cast troop back and forth with military precision. As Amélie, Brisson is an extraordinary presence, whether she’s slinking around in pursuit of some new objective or zooming effortlessly up to her circular lair above the action.
Amelie: the Musical comes closer than most film adaptations to achieving the best of both worlds. Fans of the movie will feel that it has been shown exactly the right amount of respect, while lovers of theatre will enjoy this as a gloriously eccentric theatrical event.