Dreamers Welcome in “Amelie”

Are you a dreamer? Have you ever thought that if you could only manifest your dreams, you would have a great life? What happens when your ideas take a life of their own and that you can’t control the outcome?

In the Broadway adaptation of the 2001 film, Amelie, the audience is introduced to a world filled with constant motion and chaos, but for Amelie, it’s quite the opposite. Raised by eccentric parents, her home life as a young girl becomes a solitary one when her father, a physician, diagnoses her with a heart condition and decides that she be home-schooled to avoid further excitement. While physically confined in her home and having very little interaction with her parents, she relies on her imagination to stave off her loneliness.

Her home life becomes even more solitary when her mother dies suddenly and her father becomes withdrawn. When Amelie turns 18 and leaves home to live in Paris, she does so with some trepidation until she finds work at Cafe des 2 Moulins, serving customers who are eccentrics as well, making it a safe haven for her.

The safety of her world drastically changes when she learns that Princess Diana perishes from a car accident. The shock of hearing Princess Diana’s death makes her drop a perfume-stopper which dislodges a wall tile, revealing a metal box filled with childhood memorabilia hidden by a boy who used to live in her apartment. It is at that moment when she resolves to find the owner of this box and if the return of his memorabilia makes him happy, she vows to bring happiness to others. Determined to find out the identity of the boy, she proceeds to ask her landlord, and some tenants in the building, one of which is a reclusive neighbor, Dufayel (Tony Sheldon), who remembers the young boy named Bretodeau. When she finds Bretodeau and surreptitiously leaves the box for him to find, she waits to see his response and is quite delighted when it’s a happy one.

Seeing that her good deed made one person happy propels her to find ways to make others feel the same way. From “helping” a blind man discover that his other senses opens up his world instead of hampering it, to creating a romance between her co-worker Georgette and a customer, Joseph, to the most elaborate ruse of stealing her father’s gnome and having one of her friends send photos of the gnome posing in different landmarks around the globe, her intention can be seen as that of a good samaritan, until she meets Nino (Adam Chandler Berat).

Meeting Nino makes Amelie realize that her good deeds have been one-sided until now. She relishes the acts she has done, but when it means having an emotional attachment to another person, it frightens her to the point of wanting to escape.

Played with such vulnerability by Philippa Soo of Hamilton fame, it is easy to be protective of Amelie and her own eccentricities. Her friends become her anchor but always at a distance. Even after befriending her neighbor, Dufayel, she’s friendly but keeps herself detached. It is her fear of being emotionally attached that ultimately comes to a head when she realizes that she has fallen in love with Nino and is unsure of how to deal with it. It is ironic that the acts of kindness she bestows on everyone she meets comes back to her when her friends reciprocate in kind by making sure Nino and Amelie get together in the end.

While I loved the film of the same name, partly because of  Audrey Tatou’s portrayal of a young dreamer filled whimsical ideas, and the special effects that were used to portray the enormity of how she views her life and personal interactions, the play brings a quiet yet heartfelt rendition on stage.

The cast of Amelie may not be big, but the talent from the small cast makes up for the lack in numbers. Each cast member becomes Amelie’s anchor in times of uncertainty. She convinces the audience that her life before vowing to create acts of kindness was one of restraint, and enacting them without getting acknowledgment gives her freedom to do what she wants, but in reality, it’s just another way of keeping people at a distance.

While this adaptation of Amelie doesn’t have the special effects that the film had to enhance and exaggerate the deeds and results from it, the play evokes a more pointed impression on the viewer as seen on the facial expressions that the audience sees on Soo’s face. Soo plays the role of Amelie to perfection and her co-stars’ performances enrich the experience of watching Amelie manage her acts of kindness that end with her own happiness.

Was I disappointed that the play was not the same as the film? No, because for me the main thing I got was acts of kindness matter if you’re willing to receive them as well. Amelie may have had to learn that after a few deeds, but here’s hoping the viewer doesn’t have to go through it the same way. That’s my view on this, what’s yours?

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