Amélie Review: Phillipa Soo to the rescue

Adam Chanler-Berat and Phillipa Soo in Amélie

Judging from the last few minutes of “Amélie,” when the two adorable eccentrics Amélie and Nino finally kiss, the new musical feels like a charming and almost traditional romantic comedy, especially since the leads are portrayed by two of Broadway’s most appealing and talented young stars, both of whom have names that it takes practice to spell correctly — Phillipa Soo and Adam Chanler-Berat.

But the first 90 minutes or so of “Amélie,” an adaptation of the 2001 French movie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, are a full-out exercise in whimsy. Indeed, before “Amélie” even begins, the curtain comes alive with the random flittering of little birds, bunnies and butterflies. The animation is subtle and endearing, but I suppose I could have taken it as a warning. The last time I remember seeing such a wonderfully animated Broadway curtain was at the 2011 musical Wonderland, an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland that failed to win over critics or the public, and closed after a month.

“Amélie” features a fine cast; clever, playful design; and a pleasing if unmemorable pop score. It also features Fluffy the singing goldfish, a plaster Garden Gnome come to life, (a character impersonating) Elton John singing to Amelie as if she were Princess Diana, a café full of lovelorn eccentrics, and Soo/Amelie disguising herself at times as a nun and as Zorro. Much of this was in the movie as well, but there the colorful characters and fanciful subplots all felt part of the enchanting if ironic swirl on screen (underscored  by composer Yann Tiersen bouncy French soundtrack full of accordion and mandolin.)  The stage at the Walter Kerr, by contrast, feels crowded with details, distractions and digressions that are sometimes hard to follow, even though the characters take turns narrating; saying things like “Her true destiny confirmed,Amélie decides to celebrate her new life by daydreaming alone in her apartment.” (It very much helps to have seen the movie.) The musicalized vignettes are often presented like children’s theater run amok. “Amélie” the musical has a shorter running time than “Amélie” the movie, but it feels longer.

Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.

Like the movie, the musical begins with Amélie as a child (here portrayed winningly by Savvy Crawford), being raised by a cold-fish physician father who only touches her when he gives her an annual physical, and a neurotic mother who insists on homeschooling her daughter, which means she is kept isolated from children her own age. On an educational trip to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Amelie’s mother is killed when a Belgian tourist commits suicide by jumping off the cathedral and landing on top of her.

The adult Amelie moves to Paris and, five years later, is working as a waitress in Montmartre.

The upbringing we just witnessed seems to have turned her into a loner, who is unable to form intimate relationships, and who lives largely in her imagination. After the death of Princess Di, she imagines herself as the Princess (hence the fantasy with Elton John), and sees herself assuming Diana’s legacy by performing kindnesses for strangers. This is where all the side stories kick in. A blind beggar objects when Amelie drops a coin in his cup because “It’s after 5; I’m not working,” but she eventually wins him over by her vivid descriptions of the street life. Lucien loves his figs, seeing the vegetables as almost human, so Amelie sets one of the figs up with a date. (Get it?) Above all, she serves as a secret matchmaker for the denizens of the café.

Amélie first encounters Nino in a train station on her way to one of her rescue missions. Nino is kneeling in front of a photobooth collecting the discarded photographs on the ground, and she trips over him. He’s an artist, you see, although he works as a clerk in a porn shop to make a living (which is one of the things that probably makes “Amelie” inappropriate for children.)

Thus begins, more or less, their romance — long-developing, much-interrupted, in which Amélie spends much of her time running away from him. My favorite song of the two dozen in the show, “A Better Haircut,” – tuneful, clever and energetic – occurs when Nino, through a series of odd events, winds up on Nino’s instruction at her café, where her workers and customers confront him about his intentions. The ensemble sings:

You might be a lover for the ages
but can you prove that you
are not highly contagious

Finally, he responds that there are no guarantees, and

I understand she may not even feel the same
[but]
I love her and I don’t know her name

This is near the end of the musical and Nino and Amélie have not really even had a conversation with one another.

So perhaps their love affair is unrealistic, but certainly more realistic than the talking goldfish, and also fully in keeping with romantic comedy convention. Besides, many a theatergoer has already fallen in love with Phillipa Soo. Straight out of Juilliard, she was cast at age 22 as Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812”, to great acclaim, but left that show before it transferred to Broadway in order to originate the role of Eliza in “Hamilton.” It might be difficult to find anybody who would say that her performance in the role she originates in “Amelie” is as wondrous as the ones she originated in “The Great Comet” or “Hamilton,” but it puts her on stage where she belongs, and where I suspect she will be from now on – front and center.

Amélie

Walter Kerr Theater

Book by Craig Lucas; Music by Daniel Messé; Lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé; Musical staging and choreography by Sam Pinkleton

Directed by Pam MacKinnon

Scenic Design by David Zinn; Costume Design by David Zinn; Lighting Design by Jane Cox and Mark Barton; Sound Design by Kai Harada; Projection Design by Peter Nigrini; Puppet Design by Amanda Villalobos; Hair and Wig Design by Charles G. LaPointe;

Cast: Phillipa Soo as Amélie, Adam Chanler-Berat as Nino,David Andino as Blind Beggar, Garden Gnome, Anchorperson; Randy Blair as Hipolito, Belgian Tourist; Heath Calvert as Lucin; Adrien Wells as Mysterious Man; Alison Cimmet as Amandine,Philomene; Savvy Crawford as Young Amélie; Manoel Felciano as Raphael,Bretodeau; Harriett D. Foy as Suzanne; Alyse Alan Louis as Georgette, Sylvie , Collignon’s Mother; Maria-Christina Oliveras as Gina;Tony Sheldon as Collignon, Dufayel; Paul Whitty as Joseph, Fluffy, Collignon’s Father. Swings: Emily Afton, Trey Ellett, Destinee Rea and Jacob Keith Watson. Understudies: Emily Afton (Amélie), Audrey Bennett (Young Amélie), Alyse Alan Louis (Amélie), Jacob Keith Watson (Nino) and Paul Whitty (Collignon, Dufayel)

Running time: 110 minutes, no intermission.

Tickets: $79.50 to $199.50

Advertisements

Watch Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s Speech on Broadway

17TRUDEAU3-master768

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked New York for making Canadians at home by supplying “snow banks,” during an address to the audience at Come From Away, after he and some 600 other Canadians and their guests (including more than 125 ambassadors to the United Nations)saw a performance of this musical created by  a Canadian couple about the generosity of the residents of Newfoundland towards the passengers and crew of 38 planes grounded during 9/11.

He praised such “an extraordinary crowd to celebrate this story of friendship during extraordinarily difficult times between individuals between countries” and spoke about “the close relationship between the United States and Canada” on this, Canada’s 150th anniversary.

“The world gets to see what it is to lean on each other and be there for each other,”

Come From Away on Broadway: Review, Video and Pics

“Come From Away” tells the story of the 9,000 residents of Gander, Newfoundland who took care of some 7,000 passengers and crew of 38 airplanes that were forced to land at the local airport because of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The production has gained fans for its foot-stomping Celtic-flavored music, the tight ensemble work of its 12-member cast, and its heartwarming view of humanity, as it’s traveled from La Jolla to Seattle to D.C. to Toronto. But now that it’s in New York, it has to deal with people like me.

As I wrote on the 15th anniversary of September 11th,I was across the street from the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001 when they were attacked. When an out-of-town friend visiting New York recently bought me a ticket to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, I couldn’t bring myself to go.

So I was worried that Come from Away would, in contemporary parlance, be triggering. But the exact opposite occurred. The Canadian song writing team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein are so eager to please that Come From Away keeps a safe distance from the horror of 9/11.

Come From Away focuses on the kindness of strangers, and how they ease the fear and inconvenience of the “plane people,” some 1,500 miles away from any real danger.

This is not really a “9/11 musical,” then, but it will certainly be seen that way. The question thus arises: Are we so battered by the trauma of actual events that the only stage depictions we welcome about them are feel-good entertainment?

The answer seems to be yes,  judging by the enthusiastic embrace of this musical

Full review at D.C. Theatre Scene

Click on any photograph by Matthew Murphy to see it enlarged.

Valentines Day Talk with Significant Other Cast

significant-other-cast-pic

significant-other-poster-croppedBelow are brief videotaped interviews with Barbara Barrie, Gideon Glick, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and Lindsay Mendez — four of the cast members of “Significant Other,” a play by Joshua Harmon about dating, which begins previews today (St. Valentine’s Day) at Broadway’s Booth Theater, and opens on March 2, 2017.

 

 

Love and Kisses Onstage

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are 1. 25 photographs of kisses on stage over the past century, and 2. videos of five of Broadway’s most romantic love songs,

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged and read the caption.

Watch: Actors on Activism

 

It’s best to start your activism young, advises Celia Keenan-Bolger, an actress nominated three times for Tony Awards, who grew up in a family of activists. That way, “it’s like your daily routine in the morning. You brush your teeth, you call your congressman, and go to work.”

Keenan-Bolger was speaking at the 2017 BroadwayCon panel entitled Actors and Activism, one of four Broadway actors – along with Hamilton’s Okieriete Onaodowan, Shuffle Along’s Amber Iman, In Transit’s Margo Seiberg – and director Tina Landau.

Yes, they acknowledged, there are obstacles to activism. Some people are afraid that producers and directors will blacklist them, Amber Iman said. It’s a challenge,  said Tina Landau, for non-profit theaters to get around the requirement to keep out of electoral politics in order to maintain their 501(c)3 status. It’s not easy, Margo Seibert pointed out, to be truly inclusive.

There also can be peer pressure to become an all-out activist — loud and proud, and all that — even if that does not fit your personality. To which Landau replies: “The personal is political. The political is personal. It’s your heart. You will find your way to activism, however big or small.”

Below are four videos from the panel.

Performer Amber Iman explains how, looking for “a real purpose in my life,” rather than just waiting for my next show, founded Broadway for Black Lives Matter, which has become the ongoing organization Broadway Advocacy Coalition.

 

Director Tina Landau explains how she overcame her shyness about street activism to help found The Ghostlight Project.

 

Actress Margo Seibert explains Racket, the organization she co-founded that battles the same women feel about menstruation.

 

Keenan-Bolger, Iman, Landau, Seibert and Hamilton’s Okieriete Onaodowan offer advice on how to become an activist.

Operate always out of love — Okieriete Onaodowan

 

Watch BroadwayCon 2017. Visa Ban vs. Artists. Hamilton at Super Bowl, Week in NY Theater

broadwayconcollage1

Scenes from BroadwayCon 2017

Previews of Anastasia, Amelia, Come From Away, Significant Other etc.; A surprise Q and A with Lin-Manuel Miranda via live video from London, followed by the introduction of the new Hamilton cast; a panel on actors and activism. These were among some 200 activities at BroadwayCon 2017, the second annual theater fan convention, held over the long weekend at the Javits Center. There’s no summing up,(except maybe the comment from an organizer who said: “It’s been a tough week. This is a safe space.”) Here are some snippets, including videos of Josh Groban (Great Comet), Jordan Fisher (Hamilton), Broadway for Black Lives Matter founder Amber Iman, and Broadwaycon fans beating up fighting directors.

I learned everything I could (about Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the roof) then threw it all out — Danny Burstein

I grew up naive in the South. Theater has helped me grow up in so many ways. My favorite role has been South Pacific; I became this blonde white girl vessel for what racism can look like  — Kelli O’Hara

“The best thing about theater is that it teaches empathy” – Laura Dreyfuss, Dear Evan Hansen panel,

“It’s your heart. You will find your way to activism, however big or small”~ Tina Landau, co-founder of The Ghostlight Project

Director Diane Paulus’s advice to other directors: Follow your passion. Ask big questions. Break the rules. Change the form.

As a performer, I'm more comfortable when a cast is diverse. But I have no power to make it happen - Bebe Neuwirth, Broadwaycon panel on diversity

As a performer, I’m more comfortable when a cast is diverse. But I have no power to make it happen – Bebe Neuwirth, Broadwaycon panel on diversity

Week in New York Theater Reviews

Kelly Hutchinson and Carson Elrod

Kelly Hutchinson and Carson Elrod

The Liar

In The Liar, the title character wonders whether, given his disposition, he should become a politician. But, if David Ives’ version of Pierre Corneille’s 1644 verse play may benefit from new relevance (what I call the Trump Effect), its main strength lies not in its timeliness or plot but the subversive whimsy of its language….

In his 21st century take on iambic pentameter, Ives rhymes “exit” with “sexted,” “idea” with “diarrhea,” and “muck” with “schmuck.” And he deliberately mangles Shakespeare: “But soft! What light on yonder sidewalk cracks!”

I can’t remember a play in which the playwright so obviously enjoyed his own cleverness, while at the same mocking his efforts

Alexander Flores as Tono and Lisa Ramirez as Mami

Alexander Flores as Tono and Lisa Ramirez as Mami

Tell Hector I Miss Him

Love puzzles, and messes up, the dozen characters in Tell Hector I Miss Him, a play wonderfully acted by a cast that includes veterans of Orange is the New Black. If the play itself sometimes puzzles, and shocks, it also marks a remarkable playwriting debut by 28-year-old Paola Lazaro.
Lazaro’s work is reminiscent of that by Stephen Adly Guirgis and August Wilson in its ability to turn street language into stage poetry, and to shine a warm center spotlight on people who are usually pushed to the edge.

Week in New York Theater News

crying-statue-of-liberty

Trump visa ban complicates plans for Waterwell’s English/Farsi ‘Hamlet’ starring Arian Moayed

Via @PsychToday, the health benefits of the arts & the NEA’s role in wellness efforts. #NEA #artsheal #ArtsCEOLynch https://t.co/hAqKZsiWgp

— AmericansForTheArts (@Americans4Arts) January 30, 2017

hamiltonatsuperbowl

Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Jasmine Cephas Jones, the actresses who originated the roles of Eliza, Angelica and Peggy Schuyler in “Hamilton,” will reunite to perform “America the Beautiful” during the televised pre game show at the Super Bowl on February 5

hamiltonlotterypage

Beginning Tuesday, Hamilton will double the number of $10 daily digital lottery tickets to 46. Enter the lottery 

guirgismalloymorisseaunottage

Four terrific playwrights have become new Signature Theater playwrights-in-residence, two of them Pulitzer winners: Stephen Adly Guirgis (Between Riverside and Crazy), Dave Malloy, Dominique Morrisseau (Skeleton Crew) and Lynn Nottage (Sweat.). The presence of Dave Malloy (Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) means that Signature is delving into musicals

ht_devil_wears_prada_mem_160623_12x5_1600

A musical of Meryl Streep/Ann Hathaway film “The Devil Wears Prada,” with music by Elton John and book by Paul Rudnick, is  planned for Broadway. Perfect! (no details yet.)

johnandrudnick

abby-mueller

Abby Mueller will play Carole King in Beautiful, starting March 7, a role her sister Jessie Mueller originated on Broadway.

muellers950

I interviewed her about the budding Mueller dynasty in 2015. Both her parents are actors. Abby and her three siblings all became actors. At one point recently, Abby was in the Broadway cast of Kinky Boots while her sister Jessie Mueller starred in Beautiful, and her brother Andrew was in the Off-Broadway cast of Peter and the Starcatcher. (Abby’s twin, Matt, was back in Chicago performing in a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor.)

Our whole life, we’ve gotten, ‘Oh, it must be in your genes.’ But it’s probably a mixture of nature and nurture. There are families of doctors and of lawyers and of plumbers. We’re a family of actors.”

Speech & Debate

Speech & Debate, the film version of Stephen Karam’s first hit play will be in movie theaters (and available from iTunes) on April 7th. It features such Broadway luminaries as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Roger Bart and up-and-comers Sarah Steele (The Humans), Darren Criss (Hedwig), Austin P. McKenzie (Spring Awakening), Gideon Glick (forthcoming Significant Other) .

Blind theatergoer sues Hamilton for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, because the musical offers no performances at all with live audio narrative available on headphones. The lawsuit calls for one performance a week.

Ellen’s Stardust Cafe fired 15 more employees (total: 31), including activist in the newly formed union. The owner is being sued for wage theft

The International Human Rights Art Festival at Dixon Place March 3-5

john-hurt

RIP acclaimed British actor John Hurt (Elephant Man, A Man for All Season, Naked Civil Servant, Midnight Express, Harry Potter),77

Watch: #GhostlightProject

My 101-second video of the Ghostlight Project, in which people gathered in theaters in all 50 states to create light for dark times ahead. I focus on the small, moving ceremony outside the Cherry Lane Theater in Greenwich Village, which ended with the recitation in both Spanish and English of “The New Colossus,” the Emma Lazarus poem (inscribed at the Statue of Liberty) that ends:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Watch Tony Kushner, Stephen Schwartz et al talk about their work

Below, ten major theater artists are interviewed by their peers as part of the Dramatist Guild Fund’s Legacy Project

TONY KUSHNER Interviewed By Michael Friedman

GRETCHEN CRYER & NANCY FORD Interviewed By Georgia Stitt

MICKI GRANT Interviewed By Charlayne Woodard

LARRY KRAMER Interviewed By George C. Wolfe

JAMES LAPINE Interviewed By Lisa Kron

ALAN MENKEN Interviewed By Kristen Anderson-Lopez

STEPHEN SCHWARTZ Interviewed By Jeanine Tesori
Released later this month

JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY Interviewed By Stephen Adly Guirgis

JOHN WEIDMAN Interviewed By J.T. Rogers

Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway: Review, pics, video

“Dear Evan Hansen” has changed now that it’s on Broadway, in ways that make it an even more affecting musical. Ben Platt’s performance, impressive from the get-go, is even better. But what’s changed the most is the world outside the theater, turning the story of a lie that gets out of hand into something more realistic and unfortunately more relevant.

Click on any photograph by Matthew Murphy to see it enlarged.

The plot’s trajectory seemed fanciful to me half a year ago, before the subject of “viral fake news” itself went viral. It is also bracing to realize that I omitted an important and relevant matter with which the musical deals…how much Evan and his mother Heidi (Rachel Bay Jones) are struggling financially, and how resentful Heidi is..

Full review on DC Theatre Scene