Amour Music by Michel Legrand. French libretto by Didier van Cauwelaert. Adapted from "Le Passe-Muraille" by Marcel Aymé (Les Editions Gallimard). English adaptation by Jeremy Sams. Scenic design by Scott Pask. Costume design by Dona Granata. Lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Sound design by Dan Moses Schreier. Illusion design by Jim Steinmeyer. Hair and Wig design by Tom Watson. Musical direction and vocal arrangements by Todd Ellison. Orchestrations by Michel Legrand. Choreography by Jane Comfort. Directed by James Lapine. Cast: Malcom Gets, Melissa Errico, with Lewis Cleale, Christopher Fitzgerald, Norm Lewis, Sarah Litzinger, Nora Mae Lyng, Bill Nolte and John Cunningham.
Broadway's Music Box Theatre may have found its most ideal tenant in quite a while. The delightful little jewel box of a musical, Amour, with music by Michel Legrand and direction by James Lapine, deserves a lengthy stay there, where it may enchant audiences for a long time to come.
Whether it will have such a chance remains to be seen, given the dominance of bigger, bolder, and brassier musicals stealing the spotlight (and awards) in recent years. But Amour, if not the equal of those musicals in size, matches them every step of the in terms of the talent to be found onstage and off. It should be near the top of everyone's must-see list this season.
One of the prime reasons for its success is Legrand, a noted film composer and jazz artist who first brought the musical to the Paris stage five years ago. Though it was then known by the title of the Marcel Aymé 1943 short story on which it was based, Le passe-muraille, it told the same story as it does here, of the shy, unassuming clerk who develops the ability to walk through walls, and who challenges himself to stick to his moral center and change others' lives - and his own - as a result.
That man, Dusoleil (renamed from the original Dutilleul), is played by Malcolm Gets, decked out in conservative clothing (complete with a bowler hat), every bit the insecure Everyman necessary for the part. But he's blessed with the inner strength that makes his transformation into a legendary Paris crime figure (later known as Passepartou) believable. The scene where Dusoleil torments his sadistic boss (Bill Nolte) by popping his head through the wall, though taken from the original story, comes alive under Gets, who seems to develop daring and self-confidence before our very eyes.
His new powers give him the courage to pursue the elusive Isabelle (Melissa Errico), who is generally kept out of sight by her dominating husband, played by Lewis Cleale. Errico possesses an attractive innocence and a lovely singing voice that convey the pain of her solitude and her joy at the possibilities that lie before her. Though her role is somewhat small, she's radiant and endearing.
The remaining seven members of the ensemble cast are each very strong, getting plenty of opportunities to shine. Nora Mae Lyng scores heavily in finding the comedy of her dual roles as Dusoleil's longing officemate and a philosophical street whore, as does Sarah Litzinger, willing to give it all up for the mysterious Passepartout. Cleale is severe and funny, John Cunningham makes a raucous doctor to treat Dusoleil's malady, and Christopher Fitzgerald has one of the evening's biggest triumphs in his portrayal of a courtroom advocate taking on his first case. Norm Lewis, as a street painter, sings his contemplative solo soulfully, but faces considerable difficulty in making his dullish role come alive.
But Gets's strong performance aside, it's Legrand's work that holds Amour together. The unique, special nature of the score is evident from the first few seconds; in the joyful blending of themes in the show's bouncy sung prologue, Legrand makes a musical promise he spends 90 almost uninterrupted minutes delivering. The score is ceaselessly ingratiating and tuneful, presenting a series of precisely-timed numbers of every variety. Establishing songs, character songs, plot songs, ballads, and comedy numbers take as much time as they need and no more.
Legrand wastes little music in the show, keeping it tightly written and smoothly paced throughout. Jeremy Sams provides the English adaptation of the lyrics (from the original French libretto by Didier van Cauwelaert), which, if they strain occasionally, are clever and occasionally poetic on their own. Most of the time, the lyrics and the music match each other so well, it would be difficult to believe they weren't written together originally.
Lapine matches the score every step of the way, providing a vivid style for the show that permeates the pores of the stage and the people populating it. If this really isn't 1950 France, Lapine never lets on for a moment. He is as consistent as Legrand in accepting the oddities of the world and treating them as though they're as normal as everyday life. Scott Pask's scenic designs work well with this, utilizing perspective in various ways that suggest any element onstage can pass through solid surfaces as Dusoleil can. Dona Granta's costumes are equally thoughtful and creative, appropriate as they're surprising, and the lighting from Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer always sets the mood and the scene with flair. Choreographer Jane Comfort generally has little to do, but does provide a dazzling late-in-the-show can-can that can - and does - bring down the house.
Amour is simply a show where almost everything works; the material, physical production, and the performances integrated so well, it's difficult to tell where one element leaves off and other begins. It is not only sustained well for the running time of the show's narrative, it should be mentioned that the philosophy extends even to the curtain call. Each of the characters makes a reappearance to tie up their part of the story. It's a surprising, yet wholly satisfying cap to the show, earning yet again the applause the audience is already giving it.
If there is one technical aspect to Amour to criticize, it's the sound design (the work of Dan Moses Schreier). Amour is an intimate musical with nine performers with well trained singing voices, a five piece orchestra (under the sparkling direction of Todd Ellison), and Legrands own gentle orchestrations. Nothing about the show suggests the need for as intrusive a sound system, which frequently distances and detracts from the otherwise simple nature of the proceedings.
No matter - overused amplification is the norm on Broadway today. Amour is not. It is, instead, a special, unique musical of the type Broadway doesn't see often enough, but which pleases no less than the bigger hits to be found elsewhere on the Great White Way. Take advantage of the opportunity and fall in love with Amour - Legrand, Lapine, and their cast have made it very easy and very enjoyable.