AMELIE, A New Musical”

L-R: Savvy Crawford and Phillipa Soo in “Amélie, A New Musical” at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre. “Photo by Joan Marcus.

** 1/2
“Amélie” is a 2001 French film starring the enchanting Audrey Tautou in a hyper-fantastical tale of a sheltered young woman with a unique vision of the world.  The film is nonstop eye candy with a tender heart. AMELIE, A New Musical”, is based on the movie, and has the equally enchanting Phillipa Soo, scenery and costumes that are eye candy and a heart that begs to be loved.  And that distinction weighs negatively on the delicate nature of this sweet story.

Craig Lucas has boosted the romance in the story and lost its originality. The opening is a little too coy and in trying to recreate the whirlwind feel of the movie, it becomes only marginally coherent. Once the show hits its stride it regains intelligibility and loses its uniqueness. Amélie’s young self/ confidante feels hackneyed and the ancillary characters are underused. The music and lyrics are pleasant and could use more varied arrangements.

Phillipa Soo‘s Amélie gives Audrey Tautou a run for her money. Charismatic, bewitching and sly, she sings from her guarded, creative heart and almost makes this 1:40 minute musical worth seeing.

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A Clip From The Show

in transit

**

Is it a crime to be uninspired?

The new a cappella musical “in transit” starts with an announcement that all the sounds in the show will be made by humans.  As if we wouldn’t be able to tell without their guidance. As if there might be a person left in a Broadway audience that doesn’t know what “a cappella” means.  And that pretty much sets the tone of inanity that carries thru this blandly peppy, little musical. The performance I saw had 4 understudies in, but there was still plenty of talent on stage for any good musical.

You would expect an a cappella musical to be sonically interesting, but they have managed to make the songs unmemorable and too similar so it just becomes one long forced-cheery, thumping slog. The characters are two-dimensional and except for one scene of reconciliation, there is little depth or imagination. I kept getting the feeling that I was back in the ’90s watching an Off-Broadway Revue, not acceptable for the price of a Broadway ticket. But then, the audience seemed to enjoy themselves, so maybe there is a clientele for a small, uninspired musical.

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A clip from in transit

NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812

118824_josh_groban_and_the_cast_of_natasha_pierre__the_great_comet_of_1812_-_photo_by_chad_batka-h_2016


 

Josh Groban as Pierre with the cast of NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, photo by Chad Batka.

*****

NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 has a lot in common with HAMILTON.  Based on large books, both are sung-through (meaning there is no spoken dialogue), both use a mixture of musical styles including anachronistic modern genres, both have duels, both are created by a single person writing book, music & lyrics and both represent a new wave in American Musical Theater.  Having rich base material to draw on helps both shows create intricately detailed plots, deeply drawn characters and insightful storytelling.

For those of you who didn’t make it through Leo Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE in school, have no fear. This is a raucous, fascinating musical based on a few chapters of WAR AND PEACE and there is no chance of you falling asleep. Composer/Lyricist/Bookwriter Dave Malloy has gone out of his way to make everything clear with an Opening Number that introduces the characters. I was not a Josh Groban fan going in, but he is perfectly cast as the introspective, corpulent Pierre and his singing and acting shine through on his journey of awakening.

The Set looks like a multi-layered wedding cake in the style of The Russian Tea Room, with audience on all tiers.  There is a runway stretching through the theater, where the chorus comes out to feebly draw us into the performance. The lighting is innovative, if sometimes blinding.  The tuneful music has moments of divinity and there is some of the best choral work this side of THE COLOR PURPLE. However, I would not recommend this show to anyone who only favors old-fashioned Musicals. This is Art. Sublime, delicious Art.

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Josh Groban sings “Dust and Ashes” from NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812.