Once upon a time, not that not that long ago, beloved tales and best-selling books morphed into plays or films, and only then became musicals – each change in medium adding to the magic. Today’s marketing imperatives dictate that a popular movie, whatever its provenance, must perforce be retrofitted to the stage pronto, while the property is still hot. Hence, somewhat belatedly, the new musical Amélie, based on the 2001 film, which was pretty thin on substance to begin with.
The movie was all about mood: the ebullience of a hitherto-repressed provincial young woman set loose in Paris – and how could one possibly surpass the visual symphony that is the city itself? One can’t, and so the usually reliable set and costume designer David Zinn appears to have embraced a fainéant approach (why even try, if you can’t win?). The French-blue background, comprising armoires piled to the ceiling, reads like a Disney-princess playhouse, and the roomy café where Amélie works – chockablock with "colorful characters" – could be a rural roadhouse, for all the local color applied. The costumes read as period-less, except for the hip-huggers sported by the manager of the porn store where Amélie’s kismet-ordained future significant other earns a living, when not creating his “art” – an album composed of photo-booth snapshot rejects.
Yes, porn store. If you had any notion that this sugary confection, awash in syrupy violins and tinkling bells, was an all-ages proposition, consider the charm of an obese Belgian tourist hurling himself off Notre Dame, a stewardess suggestively caressing the pointed hat of a garden gnome, and a simmering attraction hastily consummated in the café’s lavabo.
That’s not Amélie (valiant Philippa Soo, whose crystalline voice is poorly showcased here) and her whimsical paramour (relentlessly winsome Adam Chanler-Berat), who take nearly two tedious, intermission-less hours to achieve an entente, only to wonder wearily, “Where Do We Go from Here?” Lucky us, we get to head for the exit. The only performer who works some real magic in this sloppy potage is Tony Sheldon as a shut-in neighbor of Amélie’s who suffers from brittle bones, to such an extent that he dare not leave his apartment. You might emerge wishing you’d followed his example.