Say "Bonjour!" to Amélie the musical at Little Lake Theatre Company | Pittsburgh City Paper

Say "Bonjour!" to Amélie the musical at Little Lake Theatre Company

click to enlarge Say "Bonjour!" to Amélie the musical at Little Lake Theatre Company
Photo: Hawk Multimedia and Photography
Little Lake Theatre Company presents Amélie
Local audiences are being transported to Paris, France by Little Lake Theatre Company’s musical adaptation of Amélie. The Washington County theater company's take on the story about synchronicity, eccentricity, and how humans tend to shrink their lives under the weight of grief and fear is suffused with the passion and delight of the many talented artists bringing the story to life on stage.

With a plot that is, for the most part, faithful to the 2001 romantic comedy film on which it is based, the show follows Amélie (Britt Dorazio), a young woman who endured an isolated childhood after being mistakenly diagnosed with a heart condition by her cold, neurotic parents (Meighan Lloyd Harding and Patrick Brannan). To cope with her loneliness, she retreats into the comfort of her robust imagination and the safety of observation rather than participation.

As an adult, Amélie sublimates her parents’ deep need to control her into her own mode of engagement with others, working through her fear of other people by attempting to influence their behavior from afar. She discovers a box of childhood treasures hidden away in the walls of her apartment and sets out to reunite it with the person who stashed it there decades ago. She, with the best of intentions, manipulates the love lives of her coworkers at the cafe where she waits tables and tries to coax her widowed father out of his cocoon of grief.

When Amélie meets Nino (Evan Krug), a man obsessed with recovering discarded prints from photo booths placed throughout Paris’s metro system, she and the people who care about her wonder if she will be able to overcome her fear of the unknown to become a full participant in her own life.

The lovely vocal performance of Dorazio leads a cohesive and engaged ensemble to tell the story of Nino and Amélie’s eventual connection. The ensemble serves as a substitute for the film’s omniscient narrator to provide charming facts about the show's dozen quirky characters, each of whom gets their moment in the sun. Matthew Wolf does triple duty as the music director, accordion player, and Amélie’s chronically ill neighbor, Dufayel, who obsessively paints the same Renoir. The show also features a stand-out performance by Gavin Calgaro as Elton John in a flashy end-of-act number unique to the musical.

While admirable, the actors' commitment to speaking with French accents did obscure a large portion of the play’s dialogue and, with it, some of the finer points of each character’s motivations.
click to enlarge Say "Bonjour!" to Amélie the musical at Little Lake Theatre Company
Photo: Hawk Multimedia and Photography
Little Lake Theatre Company presents Amélie
In general, I’m not sure the source material benefits from its adaptation into a musical by composer Daniel Messé, lyricist Nathan Tysen, and book writer Craig Lucas. The musical, more so than the movie, focuses on Amélie’s interiority, which brings a ponderous quality to the film’s light, whimsical tone. The score features a few tunes that sound lovely in isolation, but taken in the context of the entire show, blend together into one nondescript melody. The heightened sensibilities of the musical also call attention to the exceptionally low stakes of the plot, sometimes causing the events of the story to seem fairly inconsequential. Thankfully, the actors mitigate this with their deep engagement with the text and its characters.

With Little Lake artistic director Patrick Cannon at the helm, the story moves fluidly through several different physical spaces with very few set pieces, deftly meeting the challenges of staging in-the-round such that there are no “bad seats."  To her credit, light designer Nicole White refuses to bow to the sentiment, common among designers, that no one looks good in green light and that it should be avoided at all costs — it wouldn’t be a faithful adaptation of the film without the shades of green she incorporates. Scenic designer Alex Lewis adds to the effect with verdurous floors, signs, and doorjambs. Costume designer Amy Hotovchin progressively leans into contrasting shades of red, helping to create the production’s vibrant tableaux.

Overwhelmingly, the chief delight of the production is the chance to watch a cast of people — who, for the most part, do not make their living as performers —showcase their talent and artistry, delivering impressive vocal performances and nuanced portrayals of charmingly bizarre characters. Despite the challenges presented by the musical, which originally premiered in 2015, Little Lake’s production rises to the occasion to produce a visually interesting and entertaining show.
Amélie. Continues through Sun., June 4. Little Lake Theatre Company. 500 Lakeside Drive South, Canonsburg. $15-25. littlelake.org

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