The musical starring Phillipa Soo couldn’t live up to the cult Audrey Tautou movie
How do you say failure in French?
At first glance,” Amélie” had all the ingredients for Broadway success. The musical version of “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” – the 2001 sleeper hit that is now the highest grossing French film in the U.S. – had a whimsical storyline that was crowd-tested. And the show starred Phillipa Soo, straight off her run as as Eliza Schuyler in “Hamilton”. The early reception to previews was warm.
Yet, the comédie spectacle is abruptly ending its Broadway run on May 21, less than two months after it opened. Met with lukewarm critical response (“simply pleasant—at least when it isn’t plodding,” said the New York Daily News) and entirely ignored by the Tony Awards, investors are expected to lose the entire $12 million they put up for the show.
So why did “Amélie” fall short? One major factor is that movie spin-offs don’t necessarily fare well on the Great White Way. “Just look at ‘Big’,” says Ken Davenport, the veteran Broadway producer behind “Groundhog Day,” of the 1988 comedy starring Tom Hanks that became a 1996 musical. A massive box office hit, “Big” became one of the biggest flops in Broadway history, losing its entire $10.3 million investment ($16 million in 2017 dollars.) “Broadway is an unforgiving business,” he tells Moneyish.
In fact, the peculiarities of “Amélie” made the screen-to-stage transition even more difficult. While Amélie was big for a foreign import, much of its appeal lay with the quirky lead actress Audrey Tautou—whose career it launched—and special effects that are hard to replicate. “Think of the scene in the movie where she sees the guy she likes talking to someone else and then melts into a puddle,” says Joe Dziemianowicz, the Daily News theatre critic. “There’s all these magical things happening. Trying to get that lightning in a bottle on stage is a tricky challenge.”
Even the presence of the 26-year-old Soo couldn’t turn things around. Instead, she joins a series of bold faced names that haven’t been able to independently carry a Broadway production. For instance, Forest Whitaker was panned in the flop “Hughie” and Sally Field couldn’t lift “Glass Menagerie,” which recently said it would be ending its Broadway run early.
According to Davenport, that’s not a new phenomenon: it’s virtually a rule in Broadway that big names alone aren’t enough. “They help build buzz in advance but what makes a show a success is the show itself,” says the author of the Producer’s Perspective blog. “If the experience delivers, the star helps make the musical extraordinary. It’s insurance policy.”
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