Written by Broadway veteran, Craig Lucas with songs by Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen, Amélie screams Off-Broadway. It is unpretentious, whimsical with a small cast of eccentric characters—or should I say caricatures?—that would better suit a small stage with intimate seating. In the Walter Kerr Theatre, Amélie’s charms dissipate as they waft into the audience, its pleasures barely reaching the footlights, let alone the back of the balcony.
For those who haven’t seen the film, Amélie is about the child of two dysfunctional parents, Raphael (Manoel Felciano) and Amandine (Alison Cimmet) who are totally detached from reality, keeping the young Amélie (an absolutely delightful Savvy Crawford) homeschooled and sheltered from worldly matters. Even a pet goldfish, Fluffy (a madcap Paul Whitty in a goldfish hat) gives up and commits suicide rather than live with her parents.
After her mother is killed by a suicidal tourist launching himself from the roof of Notre Dame (Randy Blair who also plays a frustrated writer, Hipolito and a ludicrous Elton John), things only get worse with her father obsessing on a Garden Gnome (a jolly, game David Andino). Even the Gnome, in a very amusing series of setups, leaves Raphael, opting for world travel.
Finally, 20-year-old Amélie highs takes herself to Paris where she rents an apartment with unconventional neighbors such as an artist, Dufayel (Tony Sheldon, stalwart in this and another small part), who paints the same Renoir painting over and over again, never completing one.
In the flat she discovers a hidden box. Her eventually successful attempts to find its owner leads her to an amateur career of doing anonymous good deeds which leads her to discover Nino (an edgy, yet charming Adam Chanler-Berat, so appealing as Peter in Peter and the Starcatcher), or at least a photo album which he has lost. Nino works in a porn store—but a cute one, of course!
The rest of the play becomes a cat-and-mouse game between Amélie and Nino which, sadly, becomes a test of the audience’s patience. That they will meld into a delightfully eccentric couple is a foregone conclusion, but, even with the comic intervention of other characters, it sure does take way too long! After a while you simply stop rooting for them which is fatal in a light, romantic comedy.
The café where Amélie finds work and a supportive network is the Café of the 2 Moulins, owned by wounded former aerialist, Suzanne (Harriett D. Foy, tough, but loveable). Waitress Gina (a demanding, but appealing Maria-Christina Oliveras), sex-starved, hypochondriac tobacconist Georgette (Alyse Alan Louis, whose sexual liaison is hilarious) and plumber Joseph (Mr. Whitty, properly gruff), stewardess Philomene (Ms. Cimmet showing her acting flexibility) plus the aforementioned Hipolito make up the café’s population and Amélie’s protective microcosm.
What was expressed with cinematic cuteness in the film—bodies melting, inanimate objects animating—becomes heavy-handed on stage, especially Amélie’s wanderings around Paris to find her mystery love object, which devolves into way too many trips up and down two staircases and over a well-used catwalk (cartoonish scenery by David Zinn, who also designed the multi-patterned, colorful costumes).
Some of these problems can be laid at the feet of director Pam MacKinnon (China Doll, The Heidi Chronicles) but the musical staging and choreography of Sam Pinkleton doesn’t help with work that was, frankly, subpar and often messy. That the talented cast was able to hold onto their characters’ colorfully annoying foibles is a credit to them.
The songs go by in a stream-of-consciousness manner with only few registering. “World’s Best Friend” has the benefit of young Amélie dancing with Fluffy. “The Commute,” which take Amélie from her modest flat to the café is a good scene setter. The denizens of the café tell Nino to get “A Better Haircut” and he is left to ponder his frustrating search for his phantom love interest in “The Late Nino Quincampoix.” The closest to an all-ut love song is “Stay” in which Nino urges poor Amélie to—well—stay.
Amélie is frustrating. The characters exist as two-dimensional cartoons that a talented cast almost brings to life. The uneven rhythms and poor timing of the show bog it down. An inability to find stage equivalents for the film’s gimmickry also hurts. It does have a game cast who vie with undistinguished songs, choreography and staging.
Finally, there is Phillipa Soo who radiates warmth amidst the disarray.
Amélie (through May 21, 2017)
Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 877-250-2929 or visit http://www.Ticketmaster.com
For more information, visit http://www.AmelieBroadway.com
Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission