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Theatre Review: Amelie: The Musical ***

Scott Purvis reviews a production with impressive elements but 'lacks a certain je ne said quoi'.

Musical theatre has been raiding the DVD rack a lot in the last fifteen years - Legally Blonde, Mean Girl sand Shrek: The Musical all testify to the blockbuster theatrical appeal of a blockbuster film. It makes a change, happily, to see producers looking down towards world cinema and switching on the subtitles on foreign language films like Amélie.

More of a character sketch than a fully-formed story, Amélie: The Musical tells the tale of its diminutive titular character, an isolated, awkward woman surviving the strangeness of the real world by stepping into a fantasy world of her own creation. Craig Lucas' book is at times laugh-out-loud funny, hurtling the peculiar character from childhood to adulthood, forcing her to face singing fish and fig-faced monsters, and timidly navigate romance.

Daniel Messé's music is upbeat and bouncy, a love-letter to a capital that has been painted onto an infinite number of canvasses. His raucous orchestrations, flowing from soft symphonies of pianos and violins to scratchy cacophonies of cellos, capture the whimsical hyper-realism of the staging without bowing too low to stereotypes and Piaf dirges, although this new production has boosted the French flavour in its sound and style since its very short 2017 Broadway run.

Nathan Tysee's lyrics speed the narrative along with some wit and warmth, although the songs are, unfortunately, largely forgettable - they meander along like the Seine and, whilst they're usually enjoyable in the moment, they don't carry much weight beyond the minute they're played. The second act, which finally fulfils the love story which the first act promised, becomes a blur of pretty repetitive and lyrically-laden songs. The result is a very slow second half which drifts towards dullness. Whoever is trimming the hedges at Versailles should be sent to Paris with a set of shears to cut some of the less evergreen numbers from this overly-long show.

It's a shame that the evening is so drawn out as the creative energy at work here could illuminate the Eiffel Tower. Madeleine Girling's gold, red and green design is absolutely beautiful and undoubtedly one of the most sumptuous in touring theatre - this is an Art-Deco Metropolitan set which unfolds secret compartments like a magic box. Tom Jackson Greave's movement direction is delightful, cleverly amplifying the whimsy of the story through actors' bodies with humour and wit.

The cast, too, shine throughout, even though the content they're delivering doesn't quite deliver. Audrey Brisson is endearing as the eponymous Amelie, a prickly little hero who flies around the stage like a whirlwind and bubbles with a likeable innocence. Her voice is beautiful and lives with the sound of Paris like the wind in an accordion. As her sweetheart, Nino, Danny Mac is likably awkward and sings with soul, and the entire cast of loveable weirdos play their parts, and onstage instruments, with skill and character.

Amelie: The Musical is an artistic experience which diehard-fans of the film are likely enjoy. Others are likely to feel that the evening lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.

Amelie: The Musical continues its UK tour.

Tags: theatre

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