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Amour Musical Review

By Cary Wong


Amour ***

MICHEL LEGRAND

Music Box Theater (CLOSED), New York

If there were a musical equivalent to a French cream puff, it'd probably look like Amour, the newly transplanted French musical by film composer Michel Legrand. When it premiered in Paris in 1997 under the title Le Passe Muraille (loosely translated as The Passer-through-Walls), the show won the Prix Moliere for Best Musical. Now, in an English translation by Jeremy Sams, the more generically titled Amour has made it to Broadway. And while there is a lot to admire in this musical, it's too much of a chamber operetta to compete with the likes of Hairspray and La Boheme.

Legrand, known for melancholy love songs such as "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" and "The Windmills of Your Mind," is the perfect composer to adapt Marcel Ayme's fairy tale novel Le Passe Muaille to the stage. Although this is his first stage musical, he is no stranger to film musicals, his most famous being The Umbrellas of Cherboug. Beautifully melodic and charming in every way, this musical may not list songs in the program, preferring to think the show as a continuous whole, but it's Legrand's whimsical music that keeps the show in the air. The problem with the current production actually doesn't have anything to do with Legrand's music; the show simply doesn't translate well to the American stage.

The shy and lonely Dusoleil (played by Caroline in the City's Malcolm Gets) works in a dreary office in post-World War II Paris. He's a hard worker, much to the chagrin of his lazier co-workers, and when he finishes his work early, he writes letters to his mother. He is hopelessly infatuated with Isabelle (Melissa Errico), a beautiful woman who is held almost like a prisoner by her barrister husband. One evening, Dusoleil discovers that he can walk through walls (clothes and all, which is never properly explained -- but it's a fairy-tale, go with it). He uses his new found powers to steal from the rich and give to the poor; play mind-games with his tyrant boss; and ultimately woo Isabelle, who's enchanted by the news story of Passepartout, the mysterious criminal who can walk through walls.

Plot and logic is not important to this musical. The proceedings are more concerned with the lives of the characters. The songs focusing on Dusoleil are needlessly comedic (Gets resembles Bill Irwin in full clown mode) while the best songs goes to Isabelle, who usually sings her ballads to herself, as she tries to escape her shut-in life via magazine stories about the rich and famous. In fact, "Other People's Stories" is the best song of the show and Errico infuses it with hope and innocence. Why this woman is not yet a Broadway star remains a mystery. When the two leads finally meet, their duets are magical, and it shows Legrand at his best, reminding me of some of the more passionate songs from his Academy Award-winning score to Yentl. There's also a beautiful moment when they're dancing around the stage under a star-filled sky -- quite breathtaking.

But, it takes a while to get to that moment, and while this hard-working cast of nine tries to fill the vast stage of the Music Box Theater, it just seems to be much ado about nothing. Yes, there's the whore with the heart of gold singing about class differences and the poor street painter who sings a typically lovely Legrand song about splashes of blue. But this is not the Paris of Les Miseables, where the streets are filled with crowds. Even when the full cast is onstage, the production still looks and feels anemic.

The look of the musical is much like the set of a Disneyland ride. It looks authentic, but slightly cartoonish. Director James Lapine moves the story along slowly, probably to fill up the show that lasts a slim 90 minutes without an intermission. But none of this would matter if the translation by Sams didn't seem so un-French. The lyrics are mostly pedestrian and uninvolving, and they make the already stock characters even more one-dimensional. This is especially troubling for the main character Dusoleil, who, despite a pleasurable performance by Gets, never wins our sympathies because he seems like such an aloof guy. Sams does a better job with Isabelle's songs, since they are more traditional love songs.

Legrand has announced that his next stage musical will probably be an adaptation of the 1967 Jacques Demy movie musical Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Girls of Rochefort), for which Legrand wrote the original score. Legrand plans to make it a bigger musical than Amour. At age 80, this is an ambitious task for Legrand, and a production I am eagerly awaiting.
 
 

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