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Glossy ‘Amélie, A Musical’ brings film’s whimsy to stage

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From left, Samantha Barks, Maria-Christina Oliveras and Adam Chanler-Berat appear in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s world premiere, “Amélie, A New Musical,” (Courtesy kevinberne.com)

Adhering closely, plotwise, to the popular 2001 French film “Amélie,” the almost-entirely-sung-through romantic comedy “Amélie, A New Musical” transfers well to the stage, at least in the lustrous world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

By Daniel Messé (score and lyrics), Nathan Tysen (lyrics) and Craig Lucas (book), it’s beautifully directed by Pam MacKinnon and encompasses cleverly choreographed movement (by Sam Pinkleton) and tender, yearning moments alike. In fact, the acting, singing, direction and design are so good that they outshine the gossamer material and the lilting but largely sound-alike songs.

Shy Amélie, home-schooled and isolated as a child, is a waitress at a Montmartre café. Seen here initially as that little girl (an assured and unflappable performance by pigtailed 9-year-old Savvy Crawford), she views her surroundings from her window through a copper spyglass, imagining a world more wondrous than it really is.

When the grown-up Amélie, a low-key, endearing Samantha Barks, happens to discover, in her apartment, a hidden box full of a child’s treasures, left there by some long-ago tenant, she determines to find the rightful owner. And, inspired too by the death of beloved do-gooder Princess Diana, she vows to become a do-gooder herself—anonymously, of course.

An excellent ensemble functions as a chorus, taking on various roles throughout: the disillusioned but hopeful eccentrics at the café; an elderly neighbor who compulsively copies Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” aspiring to understand the mysterious figure of the girl with the glass, and who challenges Amélie to break out of her shell; a bad-tempered greengrocer; Amélie’s uptight and obsessive parents; occasional pop-up narrators; a goldfish, a gargantuan garden gnome and more.

When Amélie finally, inevitably, falls in love (with Nino, played by golden-voiced Adam Chanler-Berat), she’s too — well, neurotic — to do anything other than assume various goofy disguises to both trail him and elude him. It’s a silly, contrived conceit that’s stretched pretty thin in terms of charm and believability.

David Zinn’s whimsical Parisian set and his colorful costumes, plus a live band, polish the show to a high gloss.

The opening-night audience was enraptured, but the feel-good story, and the predominantly gentle, not-quite-memorable music, won’t satisfy those who prefer sharper edges.

But a hilarious scene in which Amélie imagines an over-the-top Elton John (Randy Blair) singing a tribute to her is a particular delight, as are several other witty songs and scenes, especially those in the café.

REVIEW

Amélie, A New Musical
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Where: Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 8.p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 11
Tickets: $29 to $97
Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org

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