By Casey Curtis
You may be seated.
Dear Congregation, when we go to the house of worship that is theater, we expect our cherished movies to be sacred. And so it is with a good heart that the writers of the musical version of the charming French movie Amélie went forth to seek the promised land. But they did not heed the warnings of the prophets that it can be a challenging task to reinvent (rather than reproduce) a magical movie on the stage. And so it is with Amélie.
The writers were not able to capture the movie’s uniqueness. It is hard to figure out just where Satan blocked them — was it the uninspired book that didn’t find it’s own unique angle for mischievous humor? Was it the not-memorable lyrics that had good narrative approaches but lacked powerful hooks and were difficult to discern over the volume of the live orchestra? Or was it the score, calm and warm but not the playful tunes that would have fit this less-good-than-the-original reproduction? Lastly there is the direction, which kept us waiting for nearly an hour before the musical picked up steam — the first hour and throughout there were admirable attempts to play with props and staging and yet the sum total never soared, it only felt adequate. Philippa Soo of Hamilton had Amélie’s cute hair bob and yet I never fell under her spell and the whole show revolves around her character.
Alas, my flock, all is not lost. If you have never seen the movie, there is much to be enjoyed in this musical. There is still charm here, still musicality, still delightful performances by the ensemble, still the engaging story of a shy woman who chooses to make her life about acts of kindness and our engaged attention wondering whether this good karma will come back to her.
But overall this show is a lesson in messing with the sacred. Sometimes it works and other times — when you try to build a musical tower to the clouds where a great quirky movie resides — you end up with Babel.
Amélie: A New Musical -Book by Craig Lucas; Music by Daniel Messé; Lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé; Musical staging and choreography by Sam Pinkleton; Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Phillipa Soo, Adam Chanler-Berat, David Andino, Randy Blair, Heath Calvert, Alison Cimmet, Savvy Crawford, Manoel Felciano, Harriett D. Foy, Alyse Alan Louis, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Tony Sheldon, Paul Whitty, Emily Afton and Jacob Keith Watso
WALTER KERR THEATRE, 219 W. 48TH ST., 877-250-2929, Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission