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.