Monday, May 27, 2024

“Hamilton” Star Phillipa Soo is a Vision, Propelling New Musical “Amelie” on Broadway


All the main theater critics are on the fence, as they say, about last night’s Broadway musical opening, “Amelie.” This is the adaptation of the 2001 Audrey Tatou-starring French movie, a fanciful and charming romp that holds up even now and established Tatou as a star.

So this is what I can tell you: “Hamilton” Tony winner Phillipa Soo — the original Eliza Schuyler– could not be more charming herself, or more alluring as Amelie, the daydreamer. As Rosie O’Donnell said to me after the show, “this is her If/Then”– a reference to Idina Menzel’s star turn a couple of seasons ago as the lead in her musical.

Indeed, I’d be surprised if Soo didn’t get her own cult following out of “Amelie.” She certainly deserves a Tony nomination. She is as engaging and endearing as possible without being cloying. She also has the greatest voice, one which I could listen to all night.

So what’s the problem? “Amelie,” like so many new musicals, has no songs. It has music, lots of very well composed music. But there are no show stoppers. And no songs that define the characters. This leaves a cast of really fine actors in a bind. They can’t connect to the audience because they don’t have their own hooks. That’s it really, so simple.

Plus, “Amelie” can be confusing. Sometime you wonder where you are, or what’s happening. That’s not great for a one hour-45 minute show with no intermission. What does Amelie want? We’re not sure, she’s not sure. And that’s a big problem. Does she want love? Or does she just want to be quirky?

But then Soo is on stage almost all the time. When she’s not, you miss her. This won’t be her signature show, but it establishes her as a Broadway star, a Laura Benanti or Donna Murphy. And that’s a lot.

Plenty of interesting people came to see her last night, apart from Rosie including actress Amy Ryan, the famed Barbara Barrie (currently on Broadway in “Significant Others”)– her son, Aaron Harnick, produced the play. (Yes, his father was Jay Harnick and his uncle is Sheldon Harnick, who wrote “Fiddler.) Barrie brought along one of her “Significant” players, Sas Goldberg.

Again, “Amelie” is quite charming. Adam Chandler-Berat makes for a beguiling Nino, the object of Amelie’s dreams, and I really liked Harriet D. Foy as Suzanne, proprietress of Amelie’s French bistro. I wish they’d let her sing more. The rest of the cast is composed of real up and comers making their Broadway debuts. But it’s all about our Eliza, er, Amelie. You’ll want to be in the room where her career really happens on its own.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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