Perhaps you have never heard of Amour, the musical with a score by the prolific French composer Michel Legrand.
Perhaps it was champagne when the masses wanted beer back in 2002 when it opened on Broadway – or the lure of The Producers and Thoroughly Modern Millie (which won the Tony for Best Musical that year.) Where a little gem of a musical might be overwhelmed by Broadway economics and overshadowed by shows with larger marketing budgets, regional houses and community theatres can embrace such jewel boxes and provide them with a welcome setting.
Enter NextStop Theatre Company in Herndon, celebrating its 30th anniversary season in style. Some may remember the 1988 opening of the Elden Street Players, then a new community theatre, which occupied a former industrial space. In 2013, after 25 years of “bold artistic choices,” they decided to up their game and become a professional theatre, evolving into the NextStop Theatre Company, continuing at their same venue. Herndon native Evan Hoffman was named producing artistic director.
As a special pre-opening event for the theatre’s thirtieth, Hoffman has brought back the community aspect with which the theatre began with an all volunteer production, losing none of the quality or attention to detail for which NextStop is known. Amour, directed with an eye for romance and whimsy by Gloria DuGan, is the result.
Amour is engaging but not much more than a box of French chocolates you might purchase in a quaint shop in Montmartre, the musical’s setting. The score by Michel Legrand sparkles immediately and evokes the streets of Paris. Sadly, the English adaptation of the sung-through libretto by Jeremy Sams is hit or miss – witty exchanges and clever bon mots are outnumbered by june-spoon-croon type rhymes. With Legrand’s buoyant score keeping it afloat, the story is definitely a charmer. Fans of such musicals as She Loves Me, or even The Fantasticks should discover Amour and NextStop has made it possible in this production that is lighter than air, a perfect evening’s diversion.
Based on the renowned short story “Le Passe-muraille” (or “The Man Who Walked Through Walls”) by beloved author Marcel Aymé, Amour tells a simple tale of romance and magic in post-World War II Paris. A shy civil servant, Monsieur Dusoleil – the superbly cast Ryan Khatcheressian – toils away in his crowded office, ignored by his coworkers, while he secretly admires a beautiful woman who lives in the same neighborhood. The woman, the unhappily married Isabelle – crystal voiced and charming Teresa Danskey – pines for romance and adventure in her life since she is treated like property by her cruel and corrupt husband, the local prosecutor.
closes August 26, 2018
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One evening, presto-chango, Dusoleil discovers he has the inexplicable power to walk through walls. He is so socially awkward and cowardly, he pockets the doctor’s cure for his condition, too afraid to take the pills. But once he is pushed around by his tyrannical boss one time too many, Dusoleil embraces his special powers. He hits Paris like a French Robin Hood, using his ability to pass through walls and doors to steal from the rich and give back to the poor and destitute. The mysterious “Passepartout” as he is known is a cause cêlèbre throughout Paris and catches the attention of Isabelle, too.
As Dusoleil becomes bolder and bolder with his powers, he is caught and jailed, only to – oui, you guessed it! – escape effortlessly in order to meet Isabelle at last. A trial, a Nazi-sympathizer, some bumbling gendarmes, a hooker with a heart of gold and a beret-wearing artiste all figure in to the story. I was able to overlook the archetypal characters who swirl around Dusoleil and Isabelle’s thoroughly lovely (and ultimately bittersweet) romance, because the cast of actors were having such a good time onstage. I think part of the joie de vivre captured in this production was due to the reunion nature of the show – so many of the actors and crew have had a history with Elden Street Players (ESP) and into the recent years as NextStop.
Along with Danskey and Khatcheressian, among the returning ESP veterans, Todd Huse makes a hilarious impression as the doctor (in Mark Twain drag) and as Dusoleil’s peculiar boss. Molly Hicks Larson shows comedy prowess as the local prostitute and has the strong vocal chops to match. Likewise, memorably playing a clerk and a supportive nun, Susanna Todd possesses wonderful stage presence. Sam Nystrom, Michael Reid, and Michael Sherman take the stage in a variety of roles, as well. These actors, joined by director DuGan and many members of the crew, make a triumphant return to the former Industrial Strength Theatre they once called home for such productions as Rocky Horror Show, The Seafarer, Rent, Passion, The Giver, Blood Brothers, Doubt and many others.
The cast is rounded out by Sidney Davis, Richard Farella, Christopher Gleason and Maggie Huse – each one adding their own contribution to this special reunion production. The cast is especially adept at handling the demanding Legrand score. Beginning with a jazzy, vocalized overture – in the style of the Swingle Singers, if anyone remembers their frothy vocals – the performers handle the harmonies and sometimes intricate lyrics with skill and precision. They are ably supported by the small and hidden instrumental ensemble conducted by musical director Blakeman Brophy, who does a masterful job bringing Legrand’s score to life.
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DuGan’s production moves at a bubbly pace and is enhanced by the sprightly choreography by Jeannie Torres. The director’s design collaborators have turned in excellent work to seal the deal for an enchanting production. Judy Whelihan’s costume designs create the proper period looks of the late-1940s couture. The intimate space is completely transformed into a colorful section of Montmartre thanks to the detailed scenic design by Jack Golden. M. Dusoleil’s powers of passing through walls is realized with effective stagecraft, accentuated by the expert lighting design by Annmarie Castrigno.
Whether you want to discover this lost jewel of a little musical or come celebrate the communal joy theatre – either volunteer or professional – can bring, NextStop Theatre Company is the place to be during this month-long run of Amour.
Amour . Music by Michel Legrand . Libretto by Didier van Cauwelaert . Adapted from Le Passe-Muraille by Marcel Aymé . English adaptation by Jeremy Sams . Directed by Gloria DuGan . Featuring: Ryan Khatcheressian, Teresa Danskey, Michael Reid, Molly Hicks Larson, Susanna Todd, Nathan Beary Blustein, Richard Farella, Sidney Davis, Todd Huse, Michael Sherman, Sam Nystrom, Christopher Gleason, Maggie Huse . Choreographer: Jeannie Torres . Music Director: Blakeman Brophy . Set Designer: Jack Golden . Costume Designer: Judy Whelihan . Lighting Designer: Annmarie Castrigno . Sound Designer: Stan Harris . Stage Managers: Angie Anderson, Leslie Peterson . Produced by NextStop Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.