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Broadway Review: ‘Amelie’ Starring Phillipa Soo

Variety logo Variety 4/4/2017 Marilyn Stasio
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The only thing remotely Parisian about “Amelie” is the use of a bilious shade of green reminiscent of the outdoor pissoirs one used to see all over Paris. Hardly the image to take away from this musical-theater adaptation of the quirky 2001 film that brought goofy grins to the faces of besotted movie fans. As Amelie, Phillipa Soo (“Hamilton”) is no Audrey Tautou. But the star is so bland here, she’s not even Phillipa Soo.

More than helpful, it’s almost mandatory to have seen the movie if you hope to follow the erratic events of Craig Lucas’s twee book. David Zinn’s surreal set captures Amelie’s quirky perspective on life in general, but the Dada-esque views of the city convey little of particular Paris scenes. We could be almost anywhere.

Funny how you don’t miss a storyline until it disappears. Beyond a broad outline, little of the original plot details survive here, and the song lyrics (by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messe) are too precious to be of help. Savvy Crawford gives a lively performance as the Young Amelie, who was born with a heart problem (it’s too big and too generous) and brought up without any human comforts by emotionally frigid parents. (“World’s Best Dad” and “World’s Best Mom” are bitter songs.) But all too soon Amelie is grown up and transformed into Soo, whose lovely voice isn’t enough to animate the character.

Five years after this transformation, Amelie is waitressing in a bistro in Montmartre, working alongside unlovable caricatures of lovable characters with not-so-adorable quirks. By now, the lonely girl is living almost entirely in her own imagination. But she does occasionally interact with more substantial characters like Dufayel, a tormented old painter played with humor and heart by Tony Sheldon.

Finally (finally!) she meets someone as peculiar as she is. His name is Nino and, as listlessly played by Adam Chanler-Berat, he’s a case study in vapidity. But Nino, who collects discarded photo-portraits, is Amelie’s true soulmate, so we’re stuck with him.

In such a plot-heavy show, you’d expect the score to do some heavy lifting. But no. Messe’s music is emphatically insipid, with zero flavor of Paris, and the songs keep landing in awkward moments. It’s all quite purposeful, this gauche creative vision, and by design, quite in keeping with Amelie’s quirky imagination. But in the end, it’s just wearying, looking for some logic in all this relentless whimsy.

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