At last, a Broadway musical that exposes the bad effects of home schooling. Based on the 2001 French film, “Amelie” opened Monday at the Walter Kerr Theatre, and its ultra-shy heroine is waifish to the point of being a vanilla wafer.
Craig Lucas’ confusing book never finds its focus, and offers quite a few beginnings until, finally, the waitress Amelie (“Hamilton” alum Phillipa Soo) watches TV to see the fatal car crash that took the life of Princess Diana.
Amelie begins to imagine herself as the do-gooder princess, as opposed to the party-girl princess, which is unfortunate, because it takes nearly two hours for Amelie to work up the courage to kiss her new boyfriend (Adam Chanler-Berat, “Peter and the Starcatcher”).
Raised by horrible parents, Amelie is repressed because they home-schooled her and she never had contact with other kids. This opening sequence is so awkwardly staged by director Pam MacKinnon that you may find yourself asking the question, “If we’re in Paris, why is everyone on stage speaking English and overacting in the worst Broadway tradition?”
Soo and Chanler-Berat don’t overact, but then they’re not asked to do very much or given much reason for us to watch them. Amelie doesn’t attempt to perform Princess Di-style good deeds by visiting children in hospitals.
Rather, she returns lost objects to their rightful owners. Thanks to Lucas’ book, these endeavors of lost, found, and recovered take much more effort than they should — to the point that Amelie is not so much shy as she is a boorish tease. Nothing is heavier than whimsy when it doesn’t float.
The songwriters’ aim is admirable. In this age of over-amplification, Daniel Messe and Nathan Tysen have attempted to write an intimate musical. Their lyrics are intelligent, and Messe’s music is amiable. But being merely not offensive is not good enough with a story so thin.
While the show isn’t in any way overproduced, its set design by David Zinn, especially in the opening scenes, looks a little tacky. And MacKinnon’s low-tech approach throughout is more flimsy than inspired.