In 2001, the whimsical French film “Amélie” captivated audiences and earned five Oscar nominations, including Best Foreign Language Film. On April 3, a musical adaptation of the movie starring Tony nominee Phillipa Soo (“Hamilton”) in the title role opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr theatre.
Set predominantly in 1997 in Paris, the show centers on the introverted and imaginative Amélie, who dedicates her life to quietly enriching the lives of others while striking up a friendship with her reclusive artist neighbor (Tony Sheldon) and falling in love with an equally quirky man Nino (Adam Chanler-Berat). Featuring a score by Daniel Messé, lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen, and a book by three-time Tony nominee Craig Lucas (“Prelude to a Kiss,” “The Light in the Piazza,” “An American in Paris”), the musical boasts Tony winner Pam MacKinnon (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”) as its director.
With such beloved source material and one of Broadway’s brightest new stars in the leading role, did the musical adaptation live up to critics’ expectations?
Overall, Amélie received less than stellar reviews from critics, with many arguing that the individual parts far exceed the whole of the experience. Linda Winer (Newsday), for example, praises the “bushels of imagination” in director MacKinnon’s staging, Soo’s “enchanting open face,” and scenic designer David Zinn’s “fetching, intimate” set design, but finds the musical overall “heedlessly whimsical, precious, and so fragile.” David Cote (Time Out New York) similarly characterizes the musical as “promising but never delivering,” commending MacKinnon who “keeps the ensemble whirling,” but laments that Soo gets stuck with a rendering of the title character who’s “stubbornly passive” and bemoans that the “score is a string of dreamy and wistful pop numbers that blur together.”
Other critics found even less to like in the staging. Ben Brantley (New York Times) deems the musical “mild-mannered” and “oddly recessive” in the sense that it “neither offends nor enthralls.” Even though he applauds the team of “very clever designers,” he dislikes both Soo’s performance, which “gives few clues to what’s going on inside Amélie’s ever-churning mind,” and the score, which evokes “pink Champagne gone a bit flat.” Harsher yet, Marilyn Stasio (Variety) criticizes the score as “emphatically insipid, with zero flavor of Paris,” the “too precious” song lyrics, and the “twee book.” Although she finds Soo’s voice “lovely,” she doesn’t think it’s “enough to animate the character,” yet she does single out Tony Sheldon’s performance that’s “played with humor and heart.”
In light of the muted reception from critics, how might “Amélie” expect to do at the Tony Awards?
With 13 musicals eligible in the Best Musical category at the Tonys, five of which have yet to open, “Amélie” will struggle to break into the top category, especially considering three of those slots seem destined to go to frontrunners “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” and “Come From Away.” MacKinnon will also most likely miss out on a nomination, despite the handful of warm notices her work on the musical received.
Soo might fare better than the musical itself. While most critics felt the actress had little material of substance to work with in “Amélie,” she has a stellar reputation in the theatre community. Residual adoration for her performance in “Hamilton” from last season alone could carry her to a nomination in Best Actress this year. She also notably originated the titular role of “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” when it debuted in New York Off-Broadway years ago, which has just found its way to Broadway this season. Should members of the Tony nominating committee remember her work in that musical in its earlier iterations, they may give her an extra nudge toward a nomination, too, as a kudos for her involvement in crafting one of this season’s biggest musical successes.
The likeliest nomination “Amélie” may receive would be in Scenic Design for four-time Tony nominee Zinn, who picked up his first trophy last year for “The Humans.” Most reviews praise his artistic vision for the musical as one of the only elements to capture the Parisian setting while also honoring the unique visual style of the film.
Be sure to make your Tony Awards predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Broadway insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our Tony odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on May 2. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Tony Awards taking place right now in our theater forums.