Bay Area Theater Review: AMÉLIE, A NEW MUSICAL (Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

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by Jim Allen on September 29, 2015

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Turning a beloved French film into an American stage musical is a dicey proposition at best, but that’s precisely what Berkeley Rep has done with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 Oscar-nominated film, Amélie. It is charming, visually appealing and succeeds on numerous levels, calling for just a bit of tweaking before it heads for the Great White Way.


With a book by Craig Lucas (Prelude to a Kiss, The Light in the Piazza), a score by composer/lyricist Daniel Messe and lyricist Nathan Tysen and starring the immensely talented British film and stage star Samantha Barks in the title role, the world premiere production of Amélie, A New Musical is populated by a consistently outstanding cast, excelling as both individual performers and a razor-sharp ensemble. Director Pam McKinnon and choreographer Sam Pinkleton have created a rich tapestry composed of wonderful characters and inventive staging.


As a spirited but awkward child, Amélie Poulin (clever and self-assured 9-year-old Savvy Crawford) is home-schooled and isolated by a stern, authoritarian mother and a cold, distracted father. Upon becoming an adult (Barks), she moves to Paris, living alone and working as a waitress in a Montmartre café. After inadvertently discovering a box containing a boy’s childhood treasures, long ago hidden in a wall of her flat, she embarks on a quest to return it to its owner. After succeeding, she derives inspiration from the untimely death of Princess Diana, the “People’s Princess,” famous for her tireless acts of charity, and continues on her mission of bestowing small, anonymous kindnesses on those around her, thereby enriching their lives.

AM6_lrA random encounter with an obsessive, yet appealing, young man (Chanler-Berat) leaves her enthralled, yet she’s too shy to act on her impulse and speak to him. What ensues is a fascinating game of cat-and mouse, ending with a lovely resolution.

Messe and Tysen’s score (orchestrated for a nonet) is quite lovely, despite the fact that most of the songs aren’t particularly memorable, and many possess a certain melodic sameness. Only a few numbers really stand out, no doubt in part because the show is a sung-through piece, with minimal dialogue, with most songs segueing from one dramatic beat into the next without a break for applause. As it appears that the show is still being groomed for New York, the composers might want to consider writing a break-out solo number for our protagonist, Amélie, as they’ve done for several other characters, in particular her love interest Nino (Adam Chanler-Berat), who has two such strong moments in “Stations” and “Thin Air.” Also, an initially charming leitmotif could be pared back just a bit, as it eventually draws attention to itself by overuse.


Tony-nominated designer David Zinn has created sets and costumes that are whimsical, richly imaginative and effective. The main set is comprised of tall, monochromatically painted stacks of armoires, cabinets and other pieces of furniture, which magically transform into various Paris locales throughout the story. The rich, saturated colors Zinn uses echo the vivid, primary palette of the Jeunet film. The costumes are wonderfully character specific and often spectacular (Randy Blair’s fabulously bejeweled and over-the-top attire for his show-stopping Elton John fantasy sequence comes to mind).

Jane Cox’s lighting design is lush and appropriately dramatic. Kai Harada’s sound design is subtle and beautifully equalized, with none of the actors sounding obviously mic’d, and the players–outstanding under Kimberly Grigsby’s leadership–never overwhelm.


AM8_lrposter photo by Cheshire Isaacs
production photos by

Amélie, A New Musical
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street in Berkeley
end on October 4, 2013
EXTENDED to October 18, 2016
for tickets, call (510) 647-2949
or visit

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