They say times are hard for dreamers
And, who knows, maybe they are
People seem stuck, or lost at sea!
And I might be a dreamer
But it’s gotten me this far
And that is far enough for me…
— “Times Are Hard for Dreamers,” “Amélie”
In my college years, my roommate introduced me to “Amélie,” a French film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“The City of Lost Children,” “A Very Long Engagement”). The film garnered a myriad of award nods, including five Academy Award nominations and international acclaim for the beautiful acting performances, idiosyncratic narrative and stylish production design.
My roommate (whose quirky, hipster style was largely influenced from Audrey Tautou’s colorful wardrobe in the film and the adorable, I’m-trying-but-trying-not-to-look-like-I’m-trying bob and bangs haircut) gushed over the film nonstop, and she idolized the dreamy, altruistic Amélie.
Needless to say, I found myself watching the film a lot, and like many of the people who have experienced this story, I also found myself inspired by the titular character’s journey. Like many of the plays in Open Stage’s season of “Metamorphosis,” “Amélie” is a story I’ve had a longstanding relationship with, and I find that relationship coming full circle with “Amélie,” the musical adaptation of said 2001 French film, which debuts on Feb. 1 as part of Open Stage’s 34th season.
“Amélie” is the story of Amélie Poulain, a shy waitress who, through a series of fateful events, finds herself inspired to change the lives of the people around her, a cast of eccentrics who find love, direction and even closure through Amélie’s deeds. Meanwhile, Amélie herself struggles to find human connection while working diligently to connect others to their hopes and dreams.
In 2015, a musical based on the film was work-shopped, premiered and, eventually, moved to Broadway in 2017. With music by Daniel Messé (from the indie folk band Hem), lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen (“Tuck Everlasting,” “The Burnt Part Boys,” “Sesame Street”), and a book by Craig Lucas (“Reckless,” “An American in Paris,” “Prelude to a Kiss”), the production received mixed reviews and a short run in a competitive Broadway season (this was the same year that blockbusters such as “Come From Away” and “Dear Evan Hansen” premiered). But Stuart Landon, Open Stage’s producing artistic director, saw the promise of the simple, yet somehow sweeping story and placed it in this year’s main stage season.
Like other Broadway musicals presented in Open Stage’s 120-seat theater, this gorgeous musical has been boiled down to a simpler, small cast production, designed by scenic artist M.O. Geiger, who has created a whimsical backdrop to Jen Kilander’s beautifully saturated costume design and Tristan Stasiulis’ fast-paced lighting. Helmed by Nicholas Werner as musical director (“Carrie the Musical,” “Ragtime”), Kelly Strange as choreographer (“Fun Home,” “Carrie the Musical,” “Ragtime”) and Stuart Landon as director, this production team strives to bring the original charm, quirk and romanticism of “Amélie’s” story to life for Harrisburg audiences.
The Broadway production starred Phillipa Soo, known best for her performance in “Hamilton,” who was lauded for her performance in the original cast. These are some large shoes to fill, and Harrisburg actor Gabriella DeCarli will be tackling the role of Amélie at Open Stage. This is a vocally as well as emotionally challenging role, but DeCarli, a performer with a long list of professional credits at local theaters, is up for the challenge
“Amélie and I are similar in a lot of ways, which has made playing her so enjoyable,” DeCarli said. “The main thing we have in common is our wild sense of imagination. Growing up as an only child (like Amélie), I spent a lot of time trying to find ways to entertain myself. My imagination tended to take the driver’s seat, and I am lucky that I haven’t lost that sense of imagination as an adult.”
Amélie is not your typical heroine, but her childlike wonder and that sense of imagination makes for a stirring and heartwarming story.
“At its core, ‘Amélie’ is a story about doing good in the world,” said Landon. “And the world has become a dark place loaded with fear, despair and uncertainty. The beauty of musical theater, and I think this musical, in particular, is that it casts a shining light on the lives of people who experience it. We strive to ‘open your mind’ here at Open Stage, and I believe that ‘Amélie’ will inspire people to open their hearts, as well.”
“Amélie” runs Feb. 1 to March 8 at Open Stage, 25 N. Court St., Harrisburg. Tickets can be purchased at www.openstagehbg.com or by calling the box office at 717-232-6736. Open Stage’s new walk-up box office hours are Tuesday through Friday, 4 to 6 p.m., and up to one hour before performances.