‘Amélie’ at Center Stage

Out of the Box Brings Paris to Santa Barbara

Samantha Eve and Willie Simpson

David Bazemore

Samantha Eve and Willie Simpson

Thanks to the intrepid troupe known as the Out of the Box Theatre Company, a surreal piece of Paris life has landed at Center Stage. Amélie, the musical based on the film of the same name, is a quirky, fun-filled, and gloriously contemporary show packed with great songs and opportunities for this able cast to show what they can do. The show opens with Young Amélie (played on the day I saw it by the wonderful Ember Reiter; she alternates in the role with Hattie Ugoretz) navigating the tricky relationship between her distant, germaphobe father, Raphael (Bill Egan), and her extraordinary but doomed mom, Amandine (Deborah Bertling). This substantial sequence, which includes some great puppet work by Austin Escamilla as Fluffy the goldfish, eventually yields to the main story, in which Amélie is played by Samantha Eve.

Once Amélie takes her place among the denizens of the Montmartre café where much of the action occurs, the show overflows with exciting action. Veteran performers Rich Hoag and Miller James each play multiple roles, as does the ever-dynamic Terry Li. It’s not long before Amélie discovers her hidden talent for creating happiness at a distance, but it takes the whole play for her to allow the wonders she engineers to involve her as well. The final sequence, in which Amélie must overcome her shyness to accept the love of Nino (a terrific Nikko Arce) are quite moving, and if along the way there happens to be a life-sized puppet of Elton John and a song or two about a garden gnome, that’s all part of the charm of this unusual musical.

Congratulations to director Samantha Eve and the company for bringing another show to town that we otherwise might not see.