WHERE Kerr Theatre, 219 W. 48th St.
INFO $69.50-$169.50; 877-250-2929; ameliebroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Overly weird and whimsical fantasy musical with enchanting Phillipa Soo
The Broadway season has many openings left before the late-April cutoff, but it seems safe to say that none is likely to be weirder than “Amelie.” Given the bushels of imagination in director Pam MacKinnon’s staging and the radiant presence of Phillipa Soo in the title role, I wish that were more of a compliment.
For much of the musical based on the enduring 2001 French film, the fantasy appears to be aimed at the not-exactly-underserved audience of bright 11-year-old girls. But that is before the jolly cautionary rock song about STDs and before we find out that Amelie’s love interest is a salesman in a porn store.
So let’s forget, if we can, the target market for the one-act musical that, except for echoes of “Rent” in some of the soft-pop songs by Daniel Messe and co-lyricist Nathan Tysen, is more original than most adventures dared in the commercial theater. To original, alas, please add heedlessly whimsical, precious and so fragile we can almost hear it squish under the boot of hard-driving Broadway crowds rushing elsewhere.
We first meet Amelie as a young girl (Savvy Crawford, grave and lovely). After the Greek chorus’ prologue warns “Times Are Hard for Dreamers,” her socially-maladroit doctor-father misdiagnoses her nonexistent heart condition and her peculiar mother home-schools her in confusing geometry. The child learns, much to her future detriment that “lines are always half away.”
Her only pet, a goldfish she names Fluffy, is deemed too exciting for her heart, but not before an actor with a goldfish head gets her to declare him her “World’s Best Friend.” Amelie soon grows up shy and alone, but ever-curious. She works in a Paris café with even more eccentrics and decides, after watching Lady Di’s funeral on TV, to dedicate herself to anonymous good deeds.
Soo, the original Natasha in “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” and the first Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, has an enchanting open face and a creamy voice with enviable breath control and, as Amelie, she dashes around Paris with her chin literally up. Since the book is by brinkmanship fantasist Craig Lucas (“Prelude to a Kiss”), she confidently tumbles down the rabbit hole, supported by designer David Zinn’s fetching, intimate Parisian stack of cabinets and wardrobes in birds-egg blue.
Tony Sheldon offers wisdom as her old hermit neighbor, Adam Chanler-Berat brings endearing support as the mysterious man at the photo booth and David Andino has his moment as the giant talking garden gnome. That should be an amusing credit on his bio. Told you this is a weird one.