Updated: Aug 7, 2019
Hartshorn-Hook and Selladoor Productions with The Watermill Theatre and Broadway Asia
Based on the film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurent
Book: Craig Lewis, music: Daniel Messe, lyrics: Nathan Tyson and Daniel Messe
Manchester Opera House
6 August 2019 - 10 August 2019. Also Liverpool Playhouse, 14 - 19 October; 2hr 30min
A poignant, whimsical and surreal love letter to late 20th century France, this musical version of the 2001 film was seen on Broadway a couple of years ago but has been re-worked by its creators to adapt it to the originating Watermill Theatre’s famed methods of staging shows with casts of combined actor/musicians. The result is pretty much a delight, oozing Gallic charm and as much romance as any one, classy, evening in the theatre could possibly support.
At the performance I saw there was, however, a problem...
The show sticks pretty closely to the story outline of the film. Amelie is raised by eccentric parents who never let her out of their house because they think her health is too delicate to be exposed to the outside world. After her mother’s early death in an unfortunate accident, her father makes a poor job of looking after the lonely little girl, who eventually escapes to find work as a waitress in a 1990s Parisian cafe filled with bohemians. From there, shy though she is, she embarks on a campaign to perform a series of anonymous acts of kindness, intervening in the lives of others and spreading joy as she goes.
The 12-strong ensemble cast is excellent, morphing from one character to another in a passing succession of Amelie’s friends and acquaintances, with all except the two leads playing the instruments that make up the band.
As Amelie, Audrey Brisson, a French-Canadian who performed with Cirque du Soleil for several years, offers a charmingly nuanced central performance, combining strong vocals and physical power with mischievous, captivating gamine charm. She’s hardly off stage and she really is great.
Strictly heart throb Danny Mac, as the mysterious sweet dreamer misfit love interest, sports a beard, glasses and baggy clothes, flitting in and out, here and there, for most of the show. After Sunset Boulevard, for which he won one of the very last Manchester Theatre Awards, he again proves he is a perfect fit for musicals, entirely at home with character and score.
There are no show-stopping numbers, no big chorus lines. The score is mostly gentle and tuneful, based around pianos, accordions, various strings and flute.
Virtually the whole show is spent wondering if the two leads will ever meet and fall in love and the final scene – I’m trying not to give too much away here – has the audience holding its collective breath.
Oh, and that problem that bedevilled Tuesday’s Manchester opening night? It was the sound. A very large proportion of dialogue and lyrics were simply indecipherable, which was very unfortunate when there are lots of words to hear. Consequently anyone not familiar with the film – my wife and her friend next to her for example – were struggling to keep up for the whole of plot-setting act one. The volume was pretty perfect, for me, but the clarity definitely not. I very nearly docked a star for this but I’m hoping they’ll have fixed it for future performances, so four stars it remains.