The flooding of April openings on Broadway continued April 3 with the opening-night red carpet live stream of Amélie, starring Phillipa Soo.
Based on the 2001 film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the musical follows young Amélie Poulain (Savvy Crawford), whose physician father believes that she has a heart condition and, therefore, guards her from the outside world. Amélie grows up living “quietly in her world, but loudly in her imagination,” as her acts of small kindnesses towards strangers bring her closer to the world from which she’s been shielded.
“There’s one way to see this movie as a boy-meets-girl musical, but for me it’s a coming-of-age story,” said director Pam MacKinnon (58:11). “It’s also about moving to a big city. There’s something about finding your surrogate family that you don’t even know you need … which feels like a big story.”
When Soo joined the Facebook Live stream (51:10), she added, “She really is opening herself up to the world, to this person—to Nino—in a way that she’s never done before. It’s a very close study on a very brave moment for a young woman. It’s really a joy to do every day.”
The question of the hour, from Facebook viewers, concerned the musicalization of a beloved movie in which the main character doesn’t speak. “The most interesting process has been musicalizing the actual character of Amélie,” said Tony Sheldon, who plays Dufayel, the painter. “She can’t express herself, that’s the whole point of the film, so it’s been finding a way to give her a voice, and that’s been a very slow process. She didn’t have that in San Francisco, and they found it for her in Los Angeles, and they built on it in New York.”
“It helped that we wrote it with [Phillipa], she was with us for the whole development process. So we would come into work and hear her sing, so it was very inspiring,” said composer-lyricist Daniel Messé when he and co-lyricist Nathan Tysen stopped by (22:25). “Her song ‘Times Are Hard for Dreamers’ is literally from just listening to her warm up.”
As for Soo’s co-star, Adam Chanler-Berat, he loves singing the song the duo wrote for him: “Thin Air.” “I think it was one of the first songs they wrote for the show, and it had been in the show for all the incarnations, and when it came to Broadway, they replaced it with another song, but as previews go, that song got swapped out [and] ’Thin Air,’ it made its return,” said Chanler-Berat. “I love to sing it.”
Making their Broadway debuts, Randy Blair and David Andino joined (19:20) and also gave credit to their composer. “Dan’s work is so incredibly detailed and so emotional and sensitive,” said Blair. “It’s unlike anything, I think, on Broadway right now.”
Part of the singularity of the show is the movement driving it, provided by choreographer Sam Pinkleton (35:45). “I think in conceiving it, [my thought was] ’Why would ordinary people start dancing? Why would ordinary people sync up?’” said Pinkleton. “It’s moments when Amélie starts feeling something inside of her, she starts feeling a little magic, she starts looking at something a weird way, and those are the moments when the world activates around her.”
To that end, Pinkleton enjoys casting a variety of people to build that world. “I’m looking for two things: I’m looking for real people. I’m looking for people who look like humans and don’t look like Broadway machines—with all love to Broadway and machines. And I’m looking for people who are willing to throw down. They do not need to have dance experience. They don’t need to know how to point their toes. They do not need to be able to kick their face, but they need to be able to be like, ‘I’ll totally try that.’ That’s my favorite kind of dancer.”
Ensemble members Emily Afton (5:15), Alison Cimmet (13:45), Heath Calvert (27:00), Paul Whitty in a goldfish suit inspired by his character (31:25), Alyse Alan Louis, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Harriet D. Foy (42:00), and Savvy Crawford (47:30) all joined the live stream to talk about their characters, inspirations, and journey with the show and more.
For more excitement on the opening night red carpet, tune in April 5 as Playbill meets the cast and creative team from Broadway’s Present Laughter, starring Kevin Kline.