Whimsical French chamber musicals and Broadway rarely if ever mix, no matter how tuneful, no matter how many Tony nominations they score, witness the 2002 flop Amour. They do, however, make for magical concert staged readings, witness Musical Theatre West’s one-night-only reading of the Best Musical/Best Score-nominated Michel Legrand gem.
Plots don’t get much wispier than Amour’s libretto (based on a Marcel Aymé short story and translated from Didier Van Cauwelaert’s French-language original by Jeremy Sams).
Government office worker Dusoleil (Michael Betts) leads the dreariest of lives spiced only by glimpses of the beauteous Isabelle (Melina Kalomas), kept under virtual house arrest by her wealthy, controlling Prosecutor spouse, that is until he finds himself miraculously endowed with the ability to walk through walls.
Renaming himself Passepartout, Dusoleil has only just begun to gain a bit of Robin Hood-style fame before deciding to get himself arrested, the better to finally make Isabelle’s acquaintance.
A trial ensues.
And that’s about it, with apologies to anyone who minds spoilers, though the likelihood of your seeing a fully-staged Amour any time soon are just about nil.
Not that the charmer of a musical doesn’t deserve a local 99-seat staging (though probably not a full-scale revival minus boffo box-office appeal).
Told entirely in song, Amour features Sams’ clever lyrics and, more importantly, glorious music from the man who gave movie audiences the similarly sung-through The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg.
It takes only ace director Jason Holland, a stellar cast of nine of SoCal’s most gifted actor-singers, master musical director Julie Lamoureux and her melodious six-piece orchestra, a handful of straight-back chairs, and one ingeniously used A-shape ladder to recreate what must have taken many times their number (and millions of dollars) to bring to Broadway … and in so doing to give Musical Theatre West audiences Amour’s romantic heart minus all the frills.
A move to Long Beach’s Beverly O’Neill Theatre proves particularly fortuitous as well, adding 3-D intimacy (and allowing Isabelle her own private “balcony” from which to pine.)
Reiner Reading Series co-producer Michael Betts was clearly born to play Dusoleil, a role he invests with just-right awkward charm and the loveliest of tenors, a singing voice left unheard in his Scenie-winning performance as The Drowsy Chaperone’s Man In Chair.
Incandescent only begins to describe Kalomas’s Isabelle, a role she blesses not just with beauty but with a simply glorious soprano, and Robert Yacko is mustache-twirlingly imperious as her overbearing Prosecutor spouse.
Featured players shine in multiple roles each.
The always delightful Tracy Rowe Mutz goes from past-her-prime Whore to drab office worker Claire, and Ashley Fox Linton is equally terrific as Dusoleil’s frisky blonde work colleague Madeleine and a curvy blonde Nun.
Zachary Ford and Jeffrey Landman amuse as civil servants Charles and Bertrand, with Ford showing off particularly gorgeous pipes in Painter’s “Painter’s Song” and Landman doing his “Extra! Extra!” best as a News Vendor and as Dusoleil’s earnest Advocate.
Police Officers Bryan Dobson and William Martinez double hilariously too, the former as Dusoleil’s disgraced (and therefore dirt-cheap) Doctor Roquefort and the latter as the most deliciously obnoxious Boss.
Kelly Marie Pate is stage manager. David Lamoureux is Reiner Reading Series co-producer.
When a Broadway musical closes a mere six weeks after its first preview, it’s unlikely to get a second chance, even if its composer is Michel Legrand. That’s why musical theater lovers can rejoice that Musical Theatre West’s Reiner Reading Series gave Amour that illusive second chance, even if for one night only.
Beverly O’Neill Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.
March 12, 2017