By Constance Drugeot
Image: Pamela Raith
“The secret to life is to leave a trail of breadcrumbs, if I lose my way I can always turn around.”
Amélie: the Musical was one of the lucky shows to be brought back to life at the reopening of the West End in May 2021. In a desire to experience the magic of musical theatre once again, I found myself sitting eagerly at the Criterion Theatre, ready to be transported back into my hometown. It didn’t disappoint – on the contrary, I left the theatre with so much love and hope in my heart, I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the evening.
The thing is that I had already seen Amélie back in December 2019 at The Other Palace and I had completely fallen in love with it. When the Original London Cast Recording came out, I listened to it for days as it was taking me back to that enchanting winter night before the world stopped. What I didn’t expect, however, was for this show – that I knew already – to touch me that strongly the second time around.
Maybe it was the fact that we hadn’t had any theatre for almost eighteen months and I had missed it dearly; maybe it was the fact that I had forgotten how breathtaking this production was and I was simply taken aback by the beauty of it all.
Or maybe it was the fact that Amélie brought me something I had been deprived of for the past few months: connection.
Just like Amélie, I’m a girl who finds herself – and sometimes loses herself – in the city of her dreams. Although for me, I am a Parisian whose heart told me to go to London, and I have never regretted that choice for the past three years I have been here. But that was without counting on the health crisis that turned our whole lives upside down. Being isolated on my own for months on end affected me more than I was ready for.
I pride myself on being very independent and as an introvert, loneliness doesn’t scare me. But that loneliness hit me on a whole new level I didn’t expect. And just like Amélie, I yearned for human connections that I felt unable to reach. I missed my family, I missed spending time with my friends, I missed my hometown that I felt so far away from, I missed my life. London, which I had fallen in love with, was slowly losing its magic and spirit…
Until a little, charming show brought me home and reignited that fire within me.
Amélie is not just your typical musical. It’s an uplifting experience that will completely transform you. Set in Paris at the end of the nineties, this piece of theatre, which had first started at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in September 2015, follows a young girl, Amélie, as she sets on helping people find happiness around her while she struggles with her own loneliness.
Audrey Brisson plays to perfection the moving yet unusual role of Amélie Poulain as she gives the audience a glimpse into her life and her journey towards others. She brings to life this unique character to whom we, as a society, can relate so easily – and sometimes painfully. Even so after the year and a half we endured.
Amélie lives in her own imaginary world and seems to find fulfilment within herself, as many of us can understand so well. But, like everyone, she yearns for more. She longs for something, or someone, that could allow her to live fully and not always remain stuck ‘halfway’.
Amélie reminds me so much of myself that it can almost become painful. I might not be running all around Paris, trying to give back a lost box or taking a blind beggar on an adventure across the city, but I do live in my own little world, relying a little too much on fiction – and on my writing – to escape my reality.
As an introvert and a shy person, human relationships have always been a challenge. I feel very lucky to be surrounded by amazing friends and family who bring me endless joy every day but when it comes to getting out of my comfort zone or making a more personal connection, I freeze. Just like Amélie, I feel lost at sea, with ‘always halfway to go’…
When Amélie fails to face Nino – played by the wonderful Chris Jared – and give him back his book, Dufayel – played by the talented Johnson Willis – tells her to ‘stop living the life of others and start living her own life.’ To which Amélie resentfully shouts back that she knows that, thank you very much. As if she hasn’t tried. As if she hasn’t struggled all her life to do exactly that. I feel seen, and it hurts. And when Amélie starts crying, alone in her bedroom, it’s my own heart that’s crying with her.
I always say that this world is not made for people like Amélie, like me. Like they say, ‘times are hard for dreamers’… But that’s not true. It’s a world full of breadcrumbs and laughter and tiny miracles. We just need to be brave enough to see them. Although it might be harder for some of us, if we don’t lose faith, we’ll make it safely to the shore. Amélie makes that leap of faith and solves her own dilemma. So, there is hope for the rest of us.
Hope. That is what the show makes me feel. That no matter how hard life gets, how low we can fall, there is always ‘more to life than we can see’. We just have to lean into this life and trust. Because there is something and someone out there for every one of us.
Amélie made the first step that will take her on her own extraordinary journey. We now have to follow her lead. ‘It’s not where you are but only where you’ll go from here’.
Now, Amélie: the Musical wouldn’t be the same without its incredible cast and creatives. With a book by Craig Lucas, music by Daniel Messé, and lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé, the musical takes music and movement to a whole new level as we get completely entranced by this heartwarming story of an unusual yet magical girl.
Since the very first time I saw it, I have completely fallen in love with the show, its story, but also its beautiful music. Songs such as ‘Stay’ or “Halfway’ never fail to move me so deeply, not only through their gorgeous lyrics but also their stunning orchestration. The musical also features uplifting and inspiring numbers such as ‘Time Are Hard For Dreamers’ and ‘Tour de France’, which are amazingly choreographed, as well as a hilarious performance at the end of Act one where Elton John (Caolan McCarthy) sings a tribute to Amélie.
A personal favorite is ‘When the Booth Goes Bright’ where we see Nino for the first time and get a glimpse into his soul. Accompanied by great lighting and drumming, the scene gives the show a heartbeat that echoes throughout the story.
The cast is entirely made of actors-musicians, meaning that every performer plays an instrument – sometimes several even! – all the while acting, singing, and dancing. For musical theatre, it is something that is quite rare I believe and this was my very first time experiencing a show in that way. It is pretty extraordinary to watch, I have to say.
This, alongside a rather simple set, turns a beautiful story into an astonishing piece of theatre. Just like Amélie herself, we travel from metro stations to metro stations, while going through the Two Windmills Café, a sex shop, and Amélie’s apartment. We climb aboard a busy métro, follow blue arrows around Montmartre, and pursue a trail of breadcrumbs around the city of lights and love.
Amélie is not just a musical, it’s a surreal experience you do not want to miss. So, just pull the curtain tight, adjust the seat, lean into the light and go see Amélie: the Musical before it closes on September 25th!