In 2001, when I was studying abroad in Paris, I went to a theatre by myself to see the movie "Amelie", starring Audrey Tatou and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. That movie was, in many ways, a totem for me and my guiding principle when I was feeling my lowest as a stranger alone in a romantic city. Luckily, I made one very good friend while at school there, and today she is one of my closest friends in the world (and our boys consider themselves "best friends"). So when I heard that Amelie was now showing on Broadway at the Walter Kerr theatre, I knew I had to invite her as my plus one and make a night of it.
On the night I first saw the movie "Amelie," I hadn't yet made any friends, nor learned to speak much conversational French, and welcomed any distraction from the feeling that I was missing out from the magic that I felt Paris had promised to me but not yet delivered. Never mind the fact that I went to a movie without any English subtitles and could barely understand a word of the fast-paced French. It didn't matter. The music, the scenery, the way Paris became a fantasy land in the hands of the director, it all left me breathless when I left the theater and stepped into the rain-soaked Paris streets. I became determined to find that same magic Amelie was able to create for herself and see all around her, in my own study abroad experience from there on out. And to a great extent, I was able to accomplish that.
The cast of the newly released "Amelie" on Broadway (directed by Pam MacKinnon), which stars the hugely popular Phillipa Soo (of Hamilton fame) is immensely talented. One does not have to be a theatre buff (and I am no theatre buff) to appreciate the tremendous heart that each actor instills in their character, and the work that went into translating these decidedly French characters to the American stage. The musical delves deeper into Amelie's childhood and origins of her character more than the blink-and-you-nearly-miss-it origin story/moment of the movie. I liked that the young version of Amelie played a recurring role throughout the musical.
The characters in the Two Windmill's cafe where Amelie works also benefit from more time in front of the camera (or stage, if you will). Each person's story gets treated with about the same amount of weight, and I feel that the Broadway version makes a greater attempt to help these characters achieve more of a three dimensionality than their almost cartoonish movie counterparts.
The scenery was whimsical and lovely, and certainly stands on its own in the Broadway sense, but it does not quite compare to the lush beauty, rich colors, and sparkling detail of the movie. How can it, though? Too many special effects and attempts at making too detailed scenery may have cheapened the live version. In a sense, the scenery of the musical was meant to reflect Paris through Amelie's point of view. And since she remains forever a "girl-child," it makes sense that much of it looked hastily put together, or drawn on with chalk like a child playing with toys.
Did I agree with all of the Broadway director's choices? No. The Elton John impersonation moment made me cringe a little. But I emerged from the musical feeling uplifted and happy. It wasn't a replica of the "Amelie" from my Paris days, but it is its own "Amelie" full of whimsy, love, and a message of bringing joy to others. And we could all use more of that in the world, can't we?
See Amelie on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Tickets available here.
ALEXIS BARAD-CUTLER is an essayist who writes candidly and often humorously about the "stuff no one talks about in Mom Group" for sites such as Romper, Well Rounded NY, Mommy Nearest, and other online outlets. You can read more of her work on her website, or you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for all her latest articles.
Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary tickets to facilitate this review. However, all opinions are my own.