Tag Archives: Craig Lucas

“Amélie” – Offers Charm But Not Much Energy

Amélie, A New MusicalWALTER KERR THEATRE

Photo by Joan Marcus

By Karen Isaacs

Charming is a word that can sometimes be used to damn something with faint praise.

Amélie, the new musical based on the successful French film, is — there is no other way of putting it — charming. Not in a cloying way, but with a sweet innocence.

The movie — which was released in 2001, told the story of a young waitress who goes about helping and doing good deeds for others. Her goal is to bring happiness to others and with her imagination and personality she not only succeeds but finds love herself. It became a worldwide hit and was nominated for a number of Oscars, yet audience reactions were mixed. Some loved it for its sweetness and charm (there’s that word again) while others hated it for its simplicity.

The new musical was adapted by Craig Lucas (book), Nathan Tyson and Daniel Messe (lyrics) and music by Daniel Messe. Messe is the founder of the musical group Hem and Tyson wrote the lyrics for the recent Broadway show Tuck Everlasting.

The show also tries to maintain a Gallic sensibility.

The problem with Amélie is that nothing really happens. I never saw the film, so I can’t say if the musical adaptation is the problem. But there is no conflict, no problems, not even any deep-seated yearnings by Amélie.  She seems like a pleasant young lady with an active imagination and the soul of a Girl Scout.

That and the eccentric characters that habituate the Montmartre café where she works are not enough to fill two hours of entertainment.

Perhaps if the show featured outstanding music, or innovative music, or if dance had played a major role, the show might have been better.

You can’t fault the performers. Phillipa Soo, who won acclaim in Hamilton and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) has a lovely singing voice. Unfortunately she has been saddled with a character that needs a large dose of charisma to keep our attention. She just doesn’t radiate star power.

With the exception of Adam Chanler-Berat who plays Nino, the love interest and Maria-Christina Oliveras who plays a fellow waitress, all the other performers play multiple roles. Too many of these are brief cameos that leave little room for character development; the blind beggar, the rock star, and more.

Perhaps the most interesting character in the musical is Dufayel played by Tony Sheldon. Dufayel is a painter whose studio Amélie can see from her room. He paints over and over again a replica of Renoir’s Luncheon at the Boating Party, but he is never satisfied with the girl drinking a glass of water.

In some way Amélie touches everyone’s life, even his. But it is all so gently done that the show lacks drive.

Amélie, A New MusicalWALTER KERR THEATRE

Tony Sheldon and Phillipa Soo. Photo by Joan Marcus

What is good about the show?  First of all, the cast is talents and achieves as much possible from the material. Tony Sheldon adds an acerbic bite to his portrayal of Dufayel. Adam Chanler-Berat is earnest as Nino, the love interest. But it is telling that a few hours after leaving the theater it is difficult to remember details of the characters, the performances or the songs. They have all faded away.

Pam MacKinnon has directed this and has tried to maintain some Gallic sensibility but even that seems lost. The scenic and costume design by David Zinn is serviceable as if the lighting and sound. Puppets – including a garden gnome – are well designed by Amanda Villalobos. But just the inclusion of the puppets seems like a bit of misplaced whimsy.

As I was watching the show, I recalled another show, Amour, that was big on French charm and had a plot that seemed to defy reality. But that show had a some conflict and sadness in it.

Amélie is a show where the biggest question is why does someone collect photos discarded from those substation photo booths, and who is the man in multiple photos that have discarded all over the city.

Amélie is at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 19 W. 48th Street. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.

Amélie, A New MusicalWALTER KERR THEATRE 219 W. 48TH ST.

Adam Chanler -Berat and Phillipa Soo. Photo by Joan Marcus

“American in Paris” – National Tour at Bushnell Is Terrific

american-in-paris-bushnell_by_matthew_murphy

Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Karen Isaacs

Go see the national tour production of An American in Paris now at the Bushnell through Sunday, Nov.  20. It has just about everything:  great music, a literate book, inventive sets, lighting, costumes, a cast that is terrific and direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon.

This touring production totally captures the look, feel and quality of the original Broadway production which I saw.  And where often the sound at the Bushnell is too loud making it difficult to understand lyrics, it is just perfect here.

As the cast sings at the end of the curtain calls, “Who could ask for anything more?”  I can’t.

The show is an adaptation of the famous 1951 film that starred Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant about an American who goes in Paris to become an artist, meets a cynical American (Levant) who is a pianist, and falls in love with a French girl (Caron). The music was Gershwin’s and the book was by Alan J. Lerner. The highlight of the film was the dance—including a ballet toward the end using Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

Craig Lucas has reworked the book and I think improved it.  The show has been moved from the early ‘50s to just after the end of WWII. Our GI (Jerry Mulligan) misses the train that will take him home because he is sketching and pursuing a young woman he has only seen but is captivated by.  He winds up in a café where he meets a young American composter/pianist (Adam Hochberg) and a Frenchman (Henri Baurel) who wants to be a cabaret singer but is afraid to tell his rather straight laced, wealthy parents who expect him to take over the family fabric business. The guys soon  proclaim themselves “the three musketeers.”

The girl (Lise Dassin) is still a major part of the plot. She is a ballet dancer and somehow – we don’t know how for much of the show– she knows Henri’s parents who treat her as a daughter.  Henri is in love with her but lacks the courage to ask her to marry him. Through a connection between Henri’s mother and a wealthy youngish American woman (Milo Davenport) who wants to support the arts, Lise auditions for a prestigious dance company and is hired. Milo also ensures that Adam, who is the pianist for the company gets the opportunity to write a ballet and Jerry to design the sets.

We have three men — Henri, Jerry and Adam all smitten with the same girl –Lise– but not aware of each other’s interests. Did I mention that Lise just happens to be the girl Jerry was sketching when he missed the train?

You can easily figure out what can happen –including that Milo will takes more than a platonic interest in Jerry.  But Craig Lucas who wrote the book has added in some nice twists.

Dialogue is relatively minimal and much of the story is told through the dances choreographed by Wheeldon.  The opening, to Gershwin’s Concerto in F, sets the entire scene — from the arrival of the GIs, the liberation of Paris, the punishment of a young woman who had been involved with the Nazis, to Jerry’s sketching, seeing Lise and pursuing her, missing the train and deciding to stay in Paris.

an_american_in_paris_bushnell_by_matthew_murphy

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Scenic designer Bob Crowley (who also did the costumes) has collaborated brilliantly with 59 Projections who has done projections. The result is a flexible the combination of the moving set pieces with projections create dazzling effects that set the scenes and add to our understanding of the story without distracting us.

In this production, I noticed some of set elements I had missed before: a reference to Van Gogh’s boats, the way the scenes cinematically evolve and the colors.

Natasha Katz’ s lighting designs are also excellent as is the sound design by Jon Weston.  A few quibbles about the costumes — not all reflect the late 40’s fashion with some of them more ’50s inspired and the French characters look much too well dressed for people who have gone through the deprivation of the war and occupation.  But this minor and it is, after all, a musical.

You cannot talk about the cast without also talking about Christopher Wheeldon who both directed and choreographed.  A former principal dancer with both the Royal Ballet and the New York City Ballet, he has been choreographing for years but this is an auspicious directing debut.  We can only hope he does not get side tracked to films or television but brings his immense talent to Broadway frequently.

Jerry Mulligan played by Garen Scribner who took over the role on Broadway. An international ballet soloist, his dancing his terrific.  He has charm, a very attractive voice and good acting skills. Since I saw the original Broadway cast, he is not quite as magnetic as Robert Fairchild who originated the role.  But, of course, it is his dancing that will take your breath away. Sara Esty who plays Lise is also primarily a ballet dancer but again her acting is fine and her voice adequate for the role which has many fewer vocal numbers than Scribner.  He is obviously the primary character; after all it IS the Gene Kelly role.

The supporting actors are very good even if they don’t quite live up to the original cast. Etai Benson plays Adam Hochberg against type.  There’s nothing of Oscar Levant in him; his cynicism seems more superficial. Nick Spangler has charm, a delightful voice and conveys Henri’s uncertainties and lack of confidence. Emily Ferranti plays Milo Davenport without turning her into a “dragon lady”.  She carries more of the singing than Cope — getting to do “Shall We Dance?”  “Who Cares?” and “But Not for Me.”  As Henri’s mother, Gayton Scott projects the nervousness of someone who has realized how dangerous the world is.

The entire company dances up a storm.  This is definitely a dance musical and it is really a ballet musical.

When you combine all the elements including Rob Fisher’s adaptations and arrangements, and the wonderful Gershwin music from the “Concerto in F” to the “Second Rhapsody” and “Cuban Overture” as well as the songs, and you then add in the terrific cast, choreography and direction — the result is a musical that you must see.

An American in Paris is at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Tickets are available through The Bushnell..

This review is an adaptation and revision of the original review posted in April 2015.

americcan-in-paris-bushnel_by_matthew_murphy_2

Photo by Matthew Murphy

“American in Paris” — You Couldn’t Ask for More

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Karen Isaacs.

Finally I have seen a new Broadway musical production that I can urge you to immediately plan on seeing.  An American in Paris has just about everything:  great music, a literate book, inventive sets, lighting, costumes, a cast that is simply marvelous and direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon.

As the cast sings at the end of the curtain calls, “Who could ask for anything more?”  I can’t.

The show is an adaptation of the famous 1951 film that starred Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant about an American who goes to Paris to become an artist, meets a cynical American (Levant) who is a pianist, and falls in love with a French girl (Caron). The music was Gershwin’s and the book was by Alan J. Lerner. The highlight of the film was the dance—including a ballet toward the end using Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

Photo by Angela Sterling

Photo by Angela Sterling

Craig Lucas has reworked the book and I think improved it.  The show has been moved from the early ‘50s to just after the end of WWI. Our GI (Jerry Mulligan) misses the train that will take him home because he is sketching and pursuing a young woman he has only seen but is captivated by.  He winds up in a café where he meets a young American composer/pianist (Adam Hochberg) and a Frenchman (Henri Baurel) who wants to be a cabaret singer but is afraid to tell his rather straight laced parents who expect him to take over the family fabric business. They proclaim themselves “the three musketeers.”

The girl (Lise Dassin) is still a major part of the plot. She is a ballet dancer and somehow – we don’t know how  for much of the show– she knows Henri’s parents who treat her as a daughter.  He is in  love with her but lacks the courage to ask her to marry him. Through a connection between Henri’s mother and a wealthy youngish American woman (Milo Davenport) who wants to support the arts, Lise auditions for a prestigious dance company and is hired. Milo also ensures that Adam, who is the pianist for the company gets the opportunity to write a ballet and Jerry to design the sets.

Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope. Photo by Angela Sterling

Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope. Photo by Angela Sterling

We have three men — Henri, Jerry and Adam all smitten with the same girl –Lise– but not aware of each other’s interests. Did a mention that Lise just happens to be the girl Jerry was sketching when he missed the train?

You can easily figure out what can happen –including that Milo will takes more than a platonic interest in Jerry.  But Craig Lucas who wrote the book has added in some nice twists.

Dialogue is relatively minimal and much of the story is told through the dances choreographed by Wheeldon.  The opening, to Gershwin’s Concerto in F, sets the entire scene — from the arrival of the GIs, the liberation of Paris, the punishment of a young woman who had been involved with the Nazis, to Jerry’s sketching, seeing Lise and pursuing her, missing the train and deciding to stay  in Paris.

Scenic designer Bob Crowley (who also did the costumer) has collaborated brilliantly with 59 Projections who has done projections. The result is a flexible, every moving set with projections that help set the scenes and add to our understanding of the story without distracting us.  Natasha Katz’ s lighting designs are also excellent as is the sound design by Jon Weston.  A few quibbles about the costumes — not all reflect the late 40’s fashion with some of them more ’50s inspired and the French characters look much too well dressed for people who have gone through the deprivation of the war and

Photo by Angela Sterling

Photo by Angela Sterling

occupation.  But this minor and it is, after all, a musical.

You cannot talk about the cast without also talking about Christopher Wheeldon who both directed and choreographed.  A former principal dancer with both the Royal Ballet and the New York City Ballet, he has been choreographing for years but this is an auspicious directing debut.  We can only hope he does not get side tracked to films or television but brings his immense talent to Broadway frequently.

Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild.  Photo by Angela Sterling

Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild. Photo by Angela Sterling

Jerry Mulligan played by Robert Fairchild, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, displays not only charm but a very attractive voice and good acting skills.  But of course it is his dancing that will take your breath away.  Leanne Cope who plays Lise is also primarily a ballet dancer who has been with the Royal Ballet.  Again her acting is fine and her voice adequate for the role which has many fewer vocal numbers than Fairchild.  He is obviously the primary character; after  all it IS the Gene Kelly role.

The supporting actors are excellent.  Brandon Uranowitz gives Adam an edge while also singing and dancing well.  You realize it is the Oscar Levant character but he makes the role his own.  Max Von Essen has charm, a delightful voice and conveys Henri’s uncertainties and lack of confidence.   Jill Paice plays Milo Davenport without turning her into a “dragon lady”.  She carries more of the singing than Cope — getting to do “Shall We Dance?”  “Who Cares?” and “But Not for Me.”  As Henri’s mother, Veanne Cox projects the nervousness of someone who has realized how dangerous the world is.

The entire company dances up a storm.  This is definitely a dance musical and it is really a ballet musical.

When you combine all the elements including Rob Fisher’s adaptations and arrangements, and the wonderful Gershwin music from the “Concerto in F” to the “Second Rhapsody” and “Cuban Overture” as well as the songs, and you then add in the terrific cast, choreography and direction — the result is a musical that you must see.

An American in Paris is at the Palace Theatre on Broadway at 47th St., Tickets are available through Ticketmaster

.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Photo by Matthew Murphy

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