Review of Amélie: A New Musical


Friday night, I attended a performance of Amélie: A New Musical at the Berkeley Rep. This was my first time attending a show at that theater—I’ve only lived in Oakland 6 months, y’all. And my biggest takeaway from the performance is that I will absolutely never buy an obstructed-view seat at the Roda stage again. Honestly, I could only see two-thirds of the stage at any given time from the loge. Don’t do it. Pay full price.

Especially pay full price for a show as charming as this one. Before I go on, you need to know that I’ve never seen the Amélie movie, and my knowledge of it was limited to knowing it’s a quirky indie flick starring Audrey Tautou. You should also know this review contains plenty of spoilers—I want to talk about what worked and what didn’t, and it’s hard to do that without specifics. Lastly, I have only one song title, unfortunately, because the program did not include a scene list, which makes absolutely no sense to me unless they still wanted the freedom to change things up during this first run.

So What Worked?

The Whimsy. From the off-kilter set design to the choreography, props, and performances, Amélie’s (modern-day, Samantha Barks; young, Savvy Crawford) imagination comes through without it being an over-the-top hammer hit of “LOVE ME AND MY QUIRKS!” It’s subdued whimsy, if you will. One of my favorite scenes was the simple staging of Amélie skipping stones: quickly raised pom-poms streaming with blue were all that was needed for the image to come across. Special kudos go to the hearts that magically appear during the scenes when Amélie and her love interest, Nino (Adam Chanler-Berat), spy on each other in the subway station. The show would undoubtedly be a lesser being without the travelling gnome number as well. The postcard puns were a sheer delight on their own, and David Andino’s enthusiastic performance made it a highlight of the show.

The Songs. A good 90% of this show is songs rather than dialogue, with music by Daniel Messé and lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen. The performances and the score had airy, breezy qualities that made the songs easy to understand and able to show off the tonality of the singers’ voices well. Nino’s solo, “Thin Air,” and Nino and Amélie’s shared song around the doorframe at the climax of the romantic plot were plusses for me. To be fair, I’m a sucker for the tried and true romance device of lovers separated by a door. I must say, however, that my favorite musical moments were when the company rises up in harmony, which occurs in several numbers. These songs won’t wear you out, they’ll just guide you effortlessly through the plot. And frankly, an easy-to-follow plot is a win for a musical.


Attractive Unattractive Americans: How the World Sees America

I was contacted to do a review for Attractive Unattractive Americans: How the World Sees America, a book written by René Zografos, an award-winning Norwegian-Greek journalist. It is published under his own imprint, Renessanse Publishing.


I don’t do many book reviews, but this one’s subject matter caught my eye. “Almost every human being on the planet today knows something – and feels something – about America…But what does a world that contains seven billion people really think about the most talked about – and controversial – nation on earth?” reads the press materials, and frankly, I’m a sucker for every article I come across that tries to answer that question. Even in our modern connected world, we live such a myopic experience in the USA, tangled up in our own affairs in part because of how large of a country we are geographically and in part because rugged individualism is in the American DNA. We think we know how foreigners see America—the use of ‘Murrica! is now common parlance as is the notion we’re supposed to be world saviors yet are viewed as world manipulators. But are these conundrums what most people outside the USA ponder about us on the whole?

Zografos tackled that question through seven years of collecting anecdotes from and interviewing travelers and locals throughout the world, from Malaysia to the United Arab Emirates to Costa Rica. He has a direct, honest, and contemplative writing style.

René Zografos, photo provided by Smith Publicity.

René Zografos, photo provided by Smith Publicity.

The book is organized as a series of essays, some by Zografos and others by invited writers, on different topics related to the American identity. Interspersed with the essays are short quotes from interviewees in different geographical locales. Through this structural backbone, common themes arise that sometimes seem in direct conflict with each other. For instance, an admiration for American manners and our optimistic, you-can-do-it! attitudes comes through just as strongly as a disdain for American superficiality and lack of authenticity in our friendships. I found the comments about superficiality especially intriguing being as I come from the region of the USA that Americans themselves have deemed the most superficial: Southern California. So it was especially interesting to see so many travelers say Americans in general don’t have genuine friendships or make real connections with other people. I’m still chewing the cud on that one. Do people in other countries use that expression?


Ad Astra: The 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook for Sale!

What’s that? I share a contributor credit with such famous speculative fiction writers as Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, Chuck Wendig, Mary Robinette Kowal, Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Jim C. Hines?

Ad Astra Cover

You bet I do! The Ad Astra 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook came to be when a few fellow illustrious Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America members decided it was high past time for another cookbook to come forth from our midst. Cat Rambo and Fran Wilde volunteered for editing duties and managed to gather up 150+ recipes along with some bonus specialties with ingredients that may be hard to find…

I’ll let the Foreword speak for itself to give you a better idea of what this cookbook entails:

Within the science fiction and fantasy community, writers work wherever they can find a table, often among friends, virtual and face to face. It’s a blend of friendship and business, of celebration and craft. It’s messy sometimes. It’s beautiful.

In celebration of fifty years of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Ad Astra: The 50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook has collected recipes old and new from writers across the span of its membership. But this is more than just a cookbook. What you hold in your hands is a historical document. You’ll find a history of SF/F entertaining that goes back more than fifty years. Some of it is funny; some (like the bash cake/Mars colony cake), is itself a historical document; some of it is conversations between multiple writers. Some of it is written in fanciful, or … colorful language.

Here be Dragons.

Not everyone we wished to include are within these pages. But many are. We hope many more are to come in the future cookbooks.

The introduction to my Seared Peaches with Prosciutto and Basil definitely qualifies as one of those fanciful entries. It is a tribute to the speculative fiction writers and fans of the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, which is where I began my fiction-writing career and where I developed wonderful friends and support from among many talented fellow key-pounders.

Ad Astra Cookbook-2

You can get your hands on this very unique, and very fun collector’s item of a cookbook straight from the SFWA website here. Click to order through Paypal. Spiral-bound print is $19.95 and e-book is $9.99. I’d recommend the print myself.

Ad Astra is available for the same prices from Amazon as well.

All proceeds from the book are going directly to the SFWA Legal Fund, which is used to help SFWA members with court costs when the need for writing-related legal action is necessary–most of us don’t make much in this gig, so the legal fund can be a career saver when our work needs to be protected.

Enjoy this fun collaboration, and I’ll enjoy my moment of glory being among this fantastic group of recipe contributors.