Review: ‘Amélie’ at 2nd Star Productions

Amélie is a whimsy of a musical with a big cast of characters and an equally big heart. An ensemble-driven rom-com that transports you into a world of imagination and prankish intrigue, Amélie paints a delightful collage of colorful characters searching for love as Amélie, an idealistic young woman with “an urge to help mankind”, overcomes her own loneliness by opening her heart.

The cast of ‘Amélie’ performs ‘Where Do We Go From Here.’ Lindsay Espinosa as Amélie and Mark Zubaly as Nino with the Cast of Amélie. Photo by Nathan Bowen.

An adaptation of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 film, Broadway produced Amélie: A New Musical in 2017 after West Coast previews. Daniel Massé’s gorgeously moving musical score of folk, pop and rock music, however, is probably why, even though the Broadway show only had a short 2-month run, it premiered in  Japan, Germany, and the UK in 2018 and will be in Finland next month.  

How often do you see community theater with a live orchestra? 2nd Star Production’s Amélie is community theater at its finest under the direction of Kelsey Meiklejohn Bowen and James Huchla’s musical direction.

Wonderful sounds came from an orchestra pit neatly hidden under the proscenium with Maestro Huchla on piano, Mari Hill, reeds, Anuraag Sharma, violin/viola, Chris Mercado on guitar, Linda Christensen, harp, Kristie Snively on trombone and Arielle Miller, percussion. 

The music was the most enjoyable part of Amélie supported by a hard-working ensemble of thirteen earnest actors and strong vocalists playing multiple roles:

Lindsay Espinosa
Mark Zubaly
Naia Albert
Bill Fellows
Lucy Newton
Leigh Rawls
Christa Kronser
Stephanie Bernholz
Eric Meadows
Joshua Hampton
Dave Robinson
Gene Valendo
Aref Dajani

It takes chutzpah to compete with Hollywood and Broadway on a community theater stage but 2nd Star Productions performed the original Broadway production of Amélie very well.

The cast of Amélie performs ‘Better Haircut.’ Stephanie Bernholz as Gina, Leigh Rawls as Suzanne, Christa Kronser as Georgette, Eric Meadows as Hipolito. Photo by Nathan Bowen.

Set in the artsy Montmartre section of Paris in the 70, 80s, and 90s, the Prologue opens with the exceptionally talented sixth-grader, Naia Albert, as the young Amélie who sings of an imagined life to escape isolation and the weird parenting of a neurotic mom and germaphobe dad. Amelie gazes into an ever-handy telescope she uses throughout the show to fantasize the life she yearns for as she imagines the future of her dreams. 

Amélie morphs into a young woman who goes to Paris to escape a difficult childhood. As the grown-up Amelie, Lindsay Espinosa brings warmth and a splendid mezzo-soprano voice to the role along with just the right amount of gamine perkiness. In the course of her philanthropic do-gooder pursuits that were triggered by the tragic death of Princess Diana, Amelie meets a host of eccentric misfits such as Suzanne, a former circus performer, and Georgette, a chain-smoking hypochondriac who waitress in the same neighborhood café, among many others. 

Eventually, boy meets girl and Amélie is attracted to Nino, an introspective young man she sees at a distance on a Paris metro train. Mark Zubaly plays Nino with an intense, intellectual aura that reminds one of the wire-rimmed Mark, a central character in Rent.  Nino works in a Parisian sex shop, of all places, but Amélie tracks him down using spoofs, guises, and ruses that add to the romantic intrigue of this enchanting production.  

The dreamy storyline is oddly enjoyable despite the non-stop slew of antics from characters such as young Amélie’s pet goldfish named Fluffy who escapes the tank to sing his own song; Elton John on steroids; and the statue of a dancing gnome who began its existence atop a homemade shrine to Amélie’s mother who died when a suicidal tourist fell on her from the bridge of the River Seine. 

 Yes – this show deals in the fantastical. 

And there’s a whopping 26 show tunes to mark every turn including: “Times Are Hard for Dreamers”, “Tour de France”, “No Place Link Gnome”, “Stay” and the show-stopping “Better Haircut” with café waitresses Suzanne, Georgette and Gina belting out the tune and strutting their stuff as strong women to be reckoned with.

Jane B. Wingard and Kathryn Chapman’s watercolory set painting beautifully create the visual quaintness of Montmartre with set design by Gene Valendo.

If only the production itself could have created more of a French feeling. Mais non. Absent the lilt of a French accent, the distinctly stylish French fashion sense in the costume design or perhaps the exaggerated haughtiness of the French, Amélie projects a joie de vivre but sans the Old World charm.

2nd Star productions, however, earns an A for effort and deserves an ovation for their enchanting production of Amélie.  

Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission

Amélie by 2nd Star Productions, runs through August 24, 2019, at Bowie Playhouse at Whitemarsh Park – 16500 Whitemarsh Park Drive in Bowie, MD. Friday and Saturday night shows are at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees are at 3:00 pm. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 757-5700 or (301) 832-4819, or go online.