A New <em>Amélie</em> – for the Musical Stage

A New Amélie – for the Musical Stage

The streets of Montmartre will be brought to life on Broadway this spring courtesy of the film-to-stage adaptation of Amélie.

Under the direction of Tony Award winner Pam MacKinnon (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), the musical features a book by Craig Lucas (An American in Paris) plus music by Daniel Messé (the band Hem) and lyrics by Nathan Tysen (Tuck Everlasting) and Messé. The coming-of-age fable centers on a young waitress (played by Phillipa Soo, a 2016 Tony nominee for Hamilton) with a big heart. Based on the Oscar-nominated film, Amélie, A New Musical had its world premiere last year at Berkeley Rep and is currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. NY1 theater reporter Frank DiLella recently caught up with the musical’s director and book writer ahead of the production’s journey to The Main Stem.
Where did the idea come from to bring this beloved film to the stage?

Pam MacKinnon: Our composer Daniel Messé loved the movie when he first saw it — and held it close to his heart for many years. He was inspired to write a handful of songs for his band, long before it took off as a notion of a musical.

When were you first introduced to the film?

Craig Lucas: I saw the film right when it came out on what I thought was a date. I made the unfortunate mistake of taking this person’s hand during the movie and they informed me that they were not gay. So I have really painful memories of watching this movie. [Laughs.]

PM: I also saw it when it came out. I had been living in New York for about four years at that point and saw the movie like everyone else.

When you saw the film, did it ever cross your mind that this could be a stage musical?

PM: I didn’t go there. It struck me as such a tour de force visually, and it lived in my memory that way.

How would you describe Daniel’s music for this piece?

CL: It’s got a sensual, visceral, attractive, modern feeling to it — music that I would listen to for pleasure.

PM: I was also going to say sensual. It’s something close to the heart — you feel it in your whole body.

Craig, you’re back to France with this show: Your An American in Paris just closed on Broadway. Is Paris your city?

CL: I like the feeling in Paris that you can walk anywhere. I love that the bridges have all those locks on them — the feeling that all these people have been there. It’s a great place to set a fable.

Pam, this is your first musical. We know you as a celebrated play director …

PM: It’s been joyous doing my first musical — and also a daunting responsibility. It’s a joy to share that responsibility with three writers and a wonderful choreographer. I take great joy in this and believe that the best idea in the rehearsal room can win. I love music — I love live music — so to walk into the workplace and have that is a joy.

You directed the brilliant Tony-winning production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? back in 2012. That revival has roots at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. Steppenwolf is known as an ensemble-based theatre — and you’ve assembled a solid company of musical-theater performers for Amélie. You have a real musical-theater troupe of performers, including Phillipa Soo and Adam Chanler-Berat.

PM: I think our casting process has always been: Who’s the best actor? It’s a wonderful acting company of 13, including a 10-year-old actress who plays the young Amélie. Most of the actors play two or three different roles, and they get to stretch. No one is on the sidelines in this show.

How does the musical differ from the film?

PM: In the movie, Amélie speaks very little. On stage, we don’t have cameras for close-ups on her eyes with the moviegoing audience projecting what she may be thinking. In a musical we can give her voice — she can take us through her thought process and emotional journey through song. And to have the wonderful and talented Phillipa in the role is truly special; she brings so much life to Amélie

CL: What’s so fun about the movie and Audrey Tautou’s performance is that you kind of get what she’s doing, but it’s slightly mysterious. As Pam puts it, you can speak thoughts that are also mysterious; you can say things that are not cliché.

Pam, you’ve gone on record saying, “This show will make you laugh and make you cry.” Good to know: I’ll plan on packing tissues when I see the musical.

PM: I see this as a coming-of-age story — this girl is becoming a woman. She has huge imaginative capabilities that eventually block her and mediate the world she lives in, but deep down she’s a creature of love, as we all are. You root for her. You realize that she needs to step away from her standard operating procedure to see the wide world around her. You get sucked into this fanciful and beautiful story and it creeps up on you: “I hope she can turn left and do more in her life.” And I do get caught up in it — this simple emotional spine of becoming a woman and becoming an adult.

Amélie will begin performances on Broadway on Thursday, March 9, 2017, at the Walter Kerr Theatre. Opening night is set for Monday, April 3.