Kindness and soaring imagination are wooing theatergoers at Bowie’s little theater in the woods, where the award-winning “Amélie A New Musical” is appearing locally for the first time at 2nd Star Productions.
Based on the 2001 Oscar-nominated French film of the same name (with music by Daniel Messé, lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen and book by Craig Lucas), the romantic comedy opened on Broadway just two years ago, subsequently appearing onstage in the U.S., Japan, Germany and the U.K.
Produced and directed here by Nathan Bowen and Kelsey Meiklejohn Bowen, “Amélie” lands boldly on the Bowie Playhouse stage, where 2nd Star has earned community theater award nominations and honors.
A two-story set, designed and built by Gene Valendo with scenic painting by resident artist Jane B. Wingard and Kathryn Chapman, depicts a lovely Paris locale.
Entering the theater, the dark stage suggests a cloaked impressionist painting — an illusion that will spring to surreal life through music and light as a shy young dreamer searches for happiness outside her own imagination.
The lights rise on Young Amélie (played beautifully by 6th-grader Naia Albert), who is quickly joined by members of the ensemble in “Prologue.”
Director Bowen’s choreography immediately leaps to the forefront; the storyline could easily take backseat to such strong direction and tech showmanship, but excellent performances by an inspired cast achieve an exciting ensemble production that never stops moving to show’s end.
Musical director James Huchla conducts the orchestra at just the right volume beneath the stage. Linda Swann’s clever costumes, especially Fluffy, Elton John and Gnome, also warrant mention.
The tale begins in Amélie’s isolated childhood with the poignant “World’s Best Dad” (Albert, Bill Fellows, Lucy Newton, ensemble) and “World’s Best Friend” by Amélie and an adorable dancing fish (Aref Dajani).
In “World’s Best Mom,” classically trained singer Lindsay Espinosa as Amélie and Albert switch places to continue the titular character’s story.
Grown and living on her own as a waitress at Café de deux Moulins, Amélie discovers a child’s treasure box in her apartment left by a previous tenant. Searching for the owner leads her to Dufayel, an artist neighbor (Dave Robinson) who’s been working on painting a replica of Renoir’s “The Luncheon of the Boating Party” for decades.
Dufayel can’t quite catch the essence of “The Girl With The Glass” (the name of the musical number), he says, because the girl in the painting, like Amélie, is “a girl that doesn’t belong to anywhere.”
He points Amélie to the treasure box’s owner, Bretodeau (Valendo). She anonymously returns the box, which transforms the unhappy man’s life, and Amélie vows to continue secretly doing good for others.
Her journey intersects with a broad mix of other real and imaginary characters — Fellows and Newton as Amélie’s parents; Gina (Stephanie Bernholz), Suzanne (Leigh Rawls) and Georgette (Christa Kronser) as her quirky waitress friends; Elton John (Eric Meadows); a Gnome (Joshua Hampton) and delightful others. (Most cast members play multiple roles.)
Mark Zubaly is Dino, the eccentric young man Amélie is drawn to, a collector of torn photos who works at the Ooh La-La Sex Shop. He drops a photo album. Amélie picks it up, and before returning it, leads them through an emotional labyrinth while she finds the courage to say what’s in her heart.
Zubaly and Espinosa create wonderful chemistry together as the boy who meets girl, especially in “Stay” and “Where Do We Go From Here?”; both deliver fine performances as romantic leads.
More than two dozen musical numbers by cast members who navigate lightning-fast scene changes (managed by Ben Rollins) exceedingly well, feature highlights such as “No Place Like Gnome” (Hampton, Fellows, Espinosa, ensemble), “The Late Nino Quincampois” (Espinosa, Kronser, Bernholz, Rawls, Meadows, Hampton) and “A Better Haircut” (Rawls, Kronser, Bernholz, Zubaly, ensemble).
Among this cast of standout performers, the youngest, Albert as Young Amélie, delivers crystal clear vocals, excellent diction and a flawless stage presence.
“Amélie A New Musical”continues through Aug. 24 at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Dr. Performances are 3 p.m. Sundays; and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with a special 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Aug. 24. General admission $25, students/seniors $22. Children 12 and under (not recommended) pay $15. For tickets, go to 2ndstarproductions.com or call 410-757-5700.