If you were lucky enough to see Amélie during its short run on Broadway, “you would have seen the main character introduced to thunderous applause,” said Director Stuart Landon.
In the spirit of Open Stage’s intimate setting, its 7-year-old star draws on the floor with a green crayon while the audience files past her.
The poignant intimacy and vulnerability of young Amélie’s character draws the audience in to her lonely childhood, sheltered into a home-school setting in 1980s Paris with only a goldfish named Fluffy for a friend. Amélie‘s mother, whom Fluffy calls “crazy” in song, teaches Amélie “Zeno’s Paradox”: once you get to the halfway point between two places, there becomes a new halfway point. The point is always shifting, and you never quite get there. This paradox haunts Amélie as she grows, becoming an allegory for holding herself back.
With a distant father and a mother who openly wishes for a boy, Amélie feels like she never measures up. Though Amélie’s coming-of-age feels awkward and melancholy to step through with her, it is spread thickly with mood-lightening farcical humor—offbeat with touches of heartbeat. Many jokes are the satisfyingly inappropriate kind you feel ashamed to publicly belly laugh at, and equally glad your kids didn’t catch you.
After Amélie’s mother dies and she still can’t connect with her father, Amélie meets her older self and moves to Paris. It’s common for 7-year-old Amélie to appear in the same scene with her adult self.
“This memory play, this powerful connection – Amélie is the kid inside all of us,” Landon said. “She’s that inner child we all check in with.”
Amélie’s inner child follows her to Paris, where she lands a job waitressing in a cafe. Her coworkers are as colorful and salty as the cast of regular customers who pass their time together. Their collective hero is Lady Diana, whose death in 1997 proves to be Amélie’s next turning point. She shares that feeling of worthlessness and search for belonging with Diana, driving Amélie toward an altruistic need to perform random acts of kindness for the people in her life. She helps reunite them with lost items, lost loves and even helps her father find new love.
One of the people Amélie tries to help is her crush, Nino. Instead of outright returning his missing photo album full of photo booth strip photos, she sets up an elaborate scavenger hunt in which she snatches the book back repeatedly in much the same way Lucy yanks the football away from Charlie Brown. While she searches for the confidence to admit her own feelings for Nino, she struggles to get over her fear of getting closer to him more than half-way.
The bittersweet stops along her journey take her all over the city, complete with props from a local sex shop, a cameo from Elton John, and dancing doo-wop nuns. You really have to see the play to appreciate how all these capricious elements weave together.
Most of the musical’s actors are seasoned, familiar faces around Harrisburg’s acting troupes. They each play their roles professionally and hilariously – gliding in and out of multiple costume changes, supplying snappy humor that you don’t see coming.
Gabriella DeCarli, the adult actress who plays Amélie, brings the audience a touching performance, with a voice simultaneously adorable and tinged with sadness. The younger co-star who played 7-year-old Amélie, Rosemary Campbell, is perhaps less recognized due to her age, but still has credits in her bio.
“She is a pro. She’s magic,” Landon said. “It’s awesome working with her.”
Marketing Manager Rachel Landon said, “Amélie is much lighter than the plays we normally produce at Open Stage.”
Indeed, Amélie is an uplifting bit of welcome whimsy.
Amélie runs through March 8 at Open Stage, 25 N. Court St., Harrisburg. For more information and tickets, call the box office at 717-232-6736 or visit www.openstagehbg.com.