Category Archive for: ‘Woody Weingarten’

Ooh la la, ‘Amélie’ is a delightful musical bonbon

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★½☆

John Hickok (as Raphael) examines 9-year-old Savvy Crawford (as young Amélie) in “Amélie, A New Musical,” with sundry oddball characters looking on. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com.

John Hickok (as Raphael) examines 9-year-old Savvy Crawford (as young Amélie) in “Amélie, A New Musical,” with sundry oddball characters looking on. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com.

Samantha Barks, in the title role, ostensibly is the star of the enchanting Berkeley Rep world premiere of “Amélie, A New Musical.”

She oozes charm.

But she’s still upstaged. Often.

By 9-year-old Savvy Crawford, who plays her younger self.

By a French-accented talking fish (the only non-English role in the Paris-based show).

By Randy Blair, who doubles as a bohemian poet named Hipoloto and a chunky Elton John in a sparkly black suit, the latter becoming the showstopper because it’s enormously funny.

By a ceramic garden gnome animated by David Andino and featured in another tuneful highlight, “There’s No Place Like Gnome.”

By Sam Pinkleton’s clever choreography, including a hysterically funny set piece with three guys romping in booths at a Paris sex shop.

By a “prompter” popping his head up from a trapdoor in the floor, and other magical gimmicks inserted by director Pam McKinnon (such as shimmering foil strips that become water, or pom-poms that simulate skipping stones).

And by imaginative ever-moving sets and primary-color costumes by David Zinn.

Hiding on opposite sides of a door in “Amélie, A New Musical,” unable to express love, are Samantha Barks as Amélie and Adam Chanler-Berat as Nino. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com.

Hiding on opposite sides of a door in “Amélie, A New Musical,” unable to express love, are Samantha Barks as Amélie and Adam Chanler-Berat as Nino. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com.

Still the play’s really all about Amélie Poulin, who believes in “leaving trails of breadcrumbs” and in effect stalks — through hide-and-seek stratagems — a young man whose name she doesn’t know but loves from afar.

The do-gooder’s actually even too timid to return his lost photo album in person.

She’s also distracted by her own oblique attempts to help sundry oddball characters repair their lives.

She’s finally goaded into romantic action, however, by Tony Sheldon as Dufayel, an artist who annually re-does a Renoir painting but creates nothing original, and is so brittle-boned he’s known as The Glass Man. He labels her “the girl who doesn’t belong to anywhere.”

He’s not the only allusion to glass.

Both young and old versions of Amélie keep peeking at the world through a hand-held telescope, a theme highlighted by a song titled, naturally, “The Girl with the Glass.”

Amélie ultimately finds encouragement through several café co-workers: Maria-Christina Oliveras’ Suzanne, a limping waitress dropped from a trapeze by a guy who then also dropped her from their relationship; Carla Duren’s Gina, a back-massager; and Alyse Alan Louis as Georgette, hypochondriac-cashier.

The 110-minute play, being honed for a possible Broadway opening in the Spring with its cast of 13, is based on the delightful 2001 French film “Amélie,” and is every bit as delightful as the 2003 French cartoon feature, “The Triplets of Belleville.”

I do hope it makes it to the Great White Way.

Even though Barks isn’t quite as pixie-like as the film’s star, Audrey Tatou (who, if truth be told, was never as good again).

Even though it’s a lot more like the sweetness of “Once” than the grandeur of “Les Miz.”

Even though the mother, the fish and Princess Diana, “the godmother of the unloved,” pass away.

Even though the new music by Daniel Messé and new lyrics by him and Nathan Tysen could be pumped up to be more memorable and less like variations on a theme.

Cast of “Amélie, A New Musical” revels as Amélie (Samantha Barks, in red) ponders her life as a do-gooder. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com.

Cast of “Amélie, A New Musical” revels as Amélie (Samantha Barks, in red) ponders her life as a do-gooder. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com.

In the show, Amélie sums up life by paraphrasing a famed Winston Churchill quote about “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

I think the musical might be quantified similarly. I see it as a happy fantasy wrapped in a happy fairy tale inside a happy modern myth.

Despite its current flaws, it made it difficult for me to stop smiling — from the first song, “Flight of the Blue Fly” until the last predictably super-sweet moment, “When the Booth Goes Bright.”

Perhaps because of fond memories of the Montmarte neighborhood, a narrow-streeted artistic enclave that my wife and I enjoyed staying in last year.

Anyway, if there’s such a thing as Disney Lite for Adults, or a musical bonbon, “Amélie” is it.

Delicious.

Amélie, A New Musical” plays at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre‘s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley, through Oct. 11. Night performances, 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays, Matinees, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $14.50 to $97, subject to change. Information: 1-510-647-2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org.

Contact Woody Weingarten at voodee@sbcglobal.net or check out his blog at www.vitalitypress.com/

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