How the mind plays tricks. I remember both Marguerite, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the last two Michel Legrand musicals to play in the West End, as if they closed only last week, though Marguerite was at the Haymarket over a decade ago, opening in 2008, and closing early at a little over three and a half months having traumatised everyone who saw it, and Umbrellas opened in 2011, closing early after less than two months.
Amour, to a libretto by Marcel Ayme, translated by Jeremy Sams, opened on Broadway on October 20th 2002…and promptly closed after seventeen performances.
Quite why, then, anyone would think it was an unappreciated masterpiece overdue a revival is beyond me?
Which brings us to The Charing Cross Theatre, which has been re-configured to a traverse stage which I have to say I rather like.
It wasn’t the only thing I liked about my visit to the opening night of Amour in London. Hannah Chissick’s direction is beyond exemplary, effortlessly conjuring a multitude of Parisian scenes, for this 1950-set show.
Gary Tushaw as the protagonist, Dusoleil, is a joy to watch and listen to, and there are stand-out turns from Claire Machin whose ‘tart with the heart’ (named ‘Whore’ in the programme…) steals the show.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the cast doesn’t have a weak link among them.
Why, then, I hear you ask, have I only given the show two stars?
Well…and say this very quietly…Amour simply isn’t very good. The writing, I mean. Both Legrand’s music, and Sams’ lyrics.
It’s the story of nerdy office worker, Dusoleil, who, between writing to his mother, and feeding his cat, falls in love with the married Isabelle, who we see right at the beginning of the act, and who then forms no part of the narrative as Dusoleil discovers he’s able to walk through walls, and has some sort of a crisis in confidence, seeing a former Nazi doctor for help, and utilising his new-found skill to become a French Robin Hood whom the papers christen Passepartout.
He declares his love to Isabelle, her husband discovers them together, takes him to court and is trying to get him beheaded only to be saved in the nick of time by Isabelle who comes up with evidence of her husband’s Nazi collaboration during the war, and saves the day.
Isabelle and Dusoleil have one night of passion, before Dusoleil takes the pills prescribed by Act One’s Nazi doctor (why he hadn’t previously, who knows?) and they kick-in just as he’s mid-way through a wall, and he’s turned to stone.
As I recount it now, half of me says that in the right hands it could have been made to work, but in truth, had I not been reviewing the show, I’d have left at the interval.
Legrand writes ‘medium sized’ tunes which, given the show is through sung, become relentlessly wittery and merge into one unendingly monotonous drawl. It’s a bonus when the music says the same thing as the lyrics, but this is by no means always the case.
Sams’ lyrics similarly are oddly featureless. They feel like a workmanlike translation which is what I suppose they are, but they don’t elicit any passion, or indeed emotional involvement with me as an audience member, and an evening where you don’t care about the characters in a show can feel very long indeed.
It seems very likely that the London run will exceed that of Broadway, but that will be less to do with the quality of the show, and more to do with the fact that the theatre is booked until July 20th.
- Directed by Hannah Chissick
- Book and Lyrics by Jeremy Sams, translated from the original French of Didier Van Cauwelaert
- Choreography by Matt Cole
- Music by Michel Legrand
- Cast Includes: Gary Tushaw, Anna O’Byrne, Alasdair Harvey, Elissa Churchill, Claire Machin, Keith Ramsay, Steven Serlin, Alistair So, Daniel Stockton, Laura Bernard, Jack Reitman
- The Charing Cross Theatre
- Until 20th July 2019
- Time: 2 hours and 15 mins (15min interval)