It is a theatrical truth, too frequently demonstrated, that certain shows are simply too fragile in intent to withstand the pitiless scrutiny and unforgiving glare of Broadway or the West End. Take the case of Michel Legrand’s Amour. An operetta bouffe, it started modestly at a Parisienne fringe theatre and became a huge hit. Then in 2002, with ideas beyond its station, it was Anglicised by Jeremy Sams from the book by Didier Van Cauwelaert and moved to the Music Box Theatre in New York, where it lasted two weeks and fizzled in the wake of withering reviews.
Given its slender (some might say anorexic) content, it failed to compete with such heavyweight competition as Hairspray and Into the Woods and vanished for the next 17 years. Its current excavation at the useful Charing Cross Theatre is hardly the theatrical equivalent of discovering Tutankhamun’s tomb, but its many virtues have been restored and it emerges afresh as a lightweight, highly enjoyable anecdote that balances charm and whimsy in equal proportions.
Based on a 1941 short story by Marcel Ayme and set in Montmartre in 1950, its plot – if that’s not too strong a description – follows the adventures of Dosoleil, a nerdy office clerk who openly admits, “I don’t deserve your attention. I’m hardly worthy of mention.”
One day, for no apparent reason, Disoleil discovers he’s able to walk through walls. Taking advantage of this unlikely talent, he finds the courage to admonish his hateful new boss, ingratiate himself with some of his needy neighbours by stealing bread, money and trinkets for them, and best of all, win the love of the beautiful Isabelle, the unhappy wife of a wicked prosecutor who treats her appallingly. Hardly Les Misérables in its narrative complexity.
Still, with a melodious, soaringly romantic through-sung score by Legrand and two hours and 15 minutes of witty English lyrics by Sams (who easefully rhymes Montmarte with Sinatra and Jean-Paul Sartre), charmingly directed on a traverse stage by Hannah Chiswick and simply but effectively choreorgaphed by Matt Cole, Amour is a modest delight whose resourcefulness successfully camouflages just how vaporous it could so easily have been.
Like the material, the performances, though unflashy, are instantly appealing with a vocally secure Gary Tushaw binding it all together as the hero Dusoleil. Anna O’Byrne, also in excellent voice, is Isabelle, and Claire Machin provides comic support as a local prostitute well past her sell-by date. Playing several roles, Jack Reitman and Steven Serlin play a standout pair of gendarmes (Reitman also plays an inebriated doctor), Alasdair Harvey is Isabelle’s hissable husband (and Nazi sympathiser), and Keith Ramsay is fine as a would-be street artist.
If the Charing Cross Theatre is the ideal venue for this unassuming material, Adrian Gee’s costumes, along a set that comprises just a handful of chairs, a few pushbikes and a movable lamp post, makes the most with the least and is the perfect accompaniment for this decidedly offbeat but bittersweet entertainment. I wish it well.