Review: Amour (Charing Cross Theatre)
Michel Legrand's musical gets its UK premiere in London
It's a pity Michel Legrand did not quite live long enough to see his first effort at musical theatre get its professional debut in the UK. But Hannah Chissick's staging of Amour is at least a beguiling tribute to the legendary composer, who died in January. It's got no shortage of cinematic dazzle and it never misses a beat – even if its actual story of a do-gooder with magical powers is pretty toothless.
The 1950-set fantasy is about Dusoleil (Gary Tushaw): a hard-working office drone in Paris who is suddenly gifted with an ability to walk through walls. Though tempted to get revenge on his bullying colleagues, he instead uses his superpower for good. He steals from the rich to give to the poor, and attempts to liberate love interest Isabelle (Anna O'Byrne) from the clutches of her evil husband, the city's public prosecutor. Jeremy Sams adapts the original French text by Didier van Cauwelaert.
The aesthetics of this Robin Hood-and-Rapunzel romance are pure Disney, obviously, and the choreography and musicianship impossible to fault. Even here – beneath the arches of a railway terminus and with the 20.40 to Dover Priory rumbling overhead – it looks and sounds the part.
Characters trundle around on bicycles, the tunes are full of jaunty clarinet, and an artist in a beret is among the cast of miscellaneous Parisians seen singing and dancing near an oversized lamppost. But while the whimsy is intoxicating, the lack of a nod to the challenges facing post-war Europe feels like an opportunity missed, especially in our own fractious times.
Legrand's jazz music is a '50s touchstone, but otherwise, Amour seems misty-eyed about a still more distant past, and it ends up a bit of a historical hodgepodge. While we had a soft spot for Claire Machin as "the whore", singing her lament, the character feels on loan from Les Misérables up the road. Meanwhile Steven Serlin is Dusoleil's camp, villainous boss: Napoleon meets Emmanuel Macron.
Fairy tale or not, you wish Amour had more relevant-feeling touches. Whether by fire, endless political protests, or the more serious scourge of terrorism, genuine chaos now seems to engulf the real-life Paris regularly. Yes, it would have been a stretch to dress Dusoleil and his wretched co-workers in gilets jaunes – but more modern mischief could have been had with those characters' resistance to authority. One of the worst things Dusoleil does is steal a baguette from a bakery.
The actual love story lacks a little naughtiness too; Dusoleil and Isabelle's courtship (for this is the word for it) conducted at no fewer than 100 paces throughout. No matter: it's the supporting players who prove more memorable. There are no roles for Quasimodo, Amélie Poulain, or the talking rat from Ratatouille – but all such énormes clichés are there in spirit. Amour is an absolute baked camembert of a show: gooey, obvious, and totally basic – but ultimately good for the soul.