Amélie’s musical debut captures the hearts of viewers

Catherine Conrow

The Berkeley Repertory Theater debuted the theatrical world premiere of “Amélie, A New Musical,” starring “Les Miserables” Samantha Barks on Sept. 11.

Based on the book and five-time Academy Award nominated movie “Amélie,” the musical is just as quirky and fun to watch as the movie. 

Amélie
Samantha Barks stars as Amelie, a shy do-gooder.

Directed by Tony Award winner Pam MacKinnon (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) and penned by Craig Lucas (“An American in Paris and Prelude to a Kiss”), “Amélie, A New Musical” tells the story of a charmingly shy French girl’s journey through the streets of Montmartre, where she develops close friendships with her neighbors, matures, and finally learns to trust people after being scarred by traumatic events in her childhood. 

As a child, Amélie had ‘a weak heart,’ resulting in her being homeschooled.  There she developed a vivid imagination and created a fictional life to cope with her isolation from other children.  The early death of her mother haunted Amélie, resulting in her being too shy to interact with others. 

As a young adult, Amélie declares herself “an anonymous do-gooder,” in which she secretly orchestrates joy for those around her without actually having to interact with them.

However, a chance encounter with an elusive, attractive man during one of her tasks begins Amélie’s journey to discover that human interactions can exist, and this becomes the focus of the musical.

Amélie’s story can be a little obscure at times, but this obscurity is intentional and artistic-the creators want the audience to experience Amélie’s thought process. So what may be confusing at the beginning comes together nicely at the end.

The musical accurately captures the heart and uplifting tone of both the book and movie, even when lines aren’t sung verbatim.  There are points throughout the play in which the audience doesn’t know if they should be laughing or teary, adding to the quality of the musical.

Most impressively, the musical preserves the artistic quirks of Amélie and her friends. The blend of unrealistic settings with the realistic plot line creates a captivating juxtaposition.

Amelie

Barks’ powerful onstage presence as Amélie is what ultimately makes the musical so enjoyable to watch. Just as she portrayed Eponine in “Les Miserables,” Barks plays the role so luminously that she far outshines everyone else on stage, despite the fact that the supporting actors play just as odd and interesting characters.

Although almost all of the musical is sung, it was disappointing that none of the songs were so memorable that they got stuck in the head for days after the show- there was no “Defying Gravity” or “Music of the Night”. The addition of a blockbuster song would be necessary for Broadway success.

In recent years, the Berkeley Repertory Theater has been marketing towards a younger audience, and it goes without question “Amélie” is the perfect musical to draw youth back to theater.

The show runs through Oct. 18, and tickets can be purchased online.