Review of Amélie at the Sargent Conservatory of Theatre Arts

    This year’s Spring musical at the Sargent Conservatory of Theatre Arts was Amélie, an adaptation of the acclaimed 2001 film of the same name. The unconventional show received an outstanding production.

    In both the film and the musical, the title character’s parents stunt her emotional growth. “Slung between a neurotic and an iceberg,” the musical’s narrator says, “the world Amélie creates is her only shelter.” A bizarre accident deprives her of one parent and drives the other further into reclusiveness.

    Five years later, Amélie has left home and is waiting on tables at a restaurant in Paris. In her personal life, little has changed. She still escapes into solitude. The death of Princess Diana prompts Amélie to try to do good in the world, but she remains distant from the people she helps.

    Even when she is attracted to someone, her aversion to getting close to others asserts itself. This young man, Nino, has an eccentricity of his own. He travels from one metro station to another to stop at the photo booths and pick up discarded photos that have been torn in half.

    The other people in Amélie’s orbit are quirky, too. Much the information about the characters emerges from narration rather than action. The book by Craig Lucas has characters step out of their parts to narrate, and the ensemble advances the story in songs with music by Daniel Messé and lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen.

    In view of how much backstory must be conveyed, the reliance on narration is understandable, but this manner of storytelling may be in part responsible for the cool reception to the Amélie on Broadway in 2017. Viewers not familiar with the film must absorb a great deal of material to understand what is going. The Broadway production closed after 27 previews and 56 regular performances.

    The show was better received in the United Kingdom in a revision in which the actors were also the musicians.  The version of Amélie available for licensing retains the Broadway orchestration but incorporates other changes made for the UK production.

    The direction, design, and acting at the Conservatory were highly attuned to show’s way of telling the story. When it was important to emphasize the ensemble’s role as narrator, director Wendy Greenwood-Leveling had it band together on stairs leading the top of an archway that is the centerpiece of Maggie Nelson’s imposing scenic design. The ensemble excelled in the buoyant musical numbers choreographed by Rebecca Hartman and accompanied by the fine pit orchestra whose music directors were Nic Valdez and Cullen Curth.

    Cast members ably distinguished between narrating and creating vivid characters who were offbeat but engaging. The excellent performers were:

    • Michaela Sasner as Amélie 
    • Nathan Ayala as Nino
    • Samy Cordero – Suzanne
    • Bryn Smith as Gina
    • Piper Murray as Georgette  
    • Al Bastin as Amelie’s father and Bretodeau
    • Nicolette Sigur as Amelie’s mother and Philomene 
    • Collin Milfort as Collignon and Dufayel
    • Joseph Oliveri as Lucien and Adriene 
    • Drew Bates as Hipolito and Elton John
    • Isaiah Henry as Blind Beggar & Others
    • Ryan Porter as Joseph and others
    • Tess Therrien as Young Amélie  
    • Elizabeth Atkins as Sylvie and others 

    The individuality of the characters was enhanced by Dustin Thomas’s costume and Lucy Garlich’s wig and makeup. Lighting designer Johnathan Scully and sound designer Thomas White elevated a production that presented the show to its best advantage.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Julie A. Merkle

    From left to right: Michaela Sasner as Amélie and Nathan Ayala as Nino.