I wasn't able to attend a critic's preview but did go a week later, when a half-filled house of paying theatergoers showed no excitement at being there. They'd obviously either read or heard about the less-than-stellar reviews, so they just sat there as Dusoleil, a meek Parisian office worker, didn't quite inherit the earth but did gain the ability to walk through walls. However, when he exclaimed "The whole world is my playground!" the audience suddenly found itself sharing his joy. Later, they gave out with a genuine laugh when Dusoleil stuck his head through the boss's office wall, just to make the despot think he was going crazy. Wouldn't we all like to do that?
Smiles, chuckles, and laughs accelerated as Dusoleil finally found the courage to approach his neighbor Isabelle, whom he'd always loved from afar. Stuck in a loveless marriage, she wasn't impressed with him until he showed he could do something daring. (Some women are like that.) Dusoleil's capers eventually got him arrested and the audience both groaned and laughed when the prosecutor turned out to be Isabelle's husband -- who, needless to say, had an agenda. Meanwhile, Dusoleil's lawyer unabashedly threw himself on the mercy of the court by stating that he was just out of law school and asked if his client could go free so as to not to spoil the excitement of his first case.
This caused the audience to give out with laughter as warm as a Parisian breeze in May. The laughs continued when the judge eventually decided, "In the name of love, the prisoner is free to go." But how everyone moaned when Dusoleil finally decided to take pills that a doctor had given him -- for they inferred (correctly) that the "cure" would end his new-found talent.
At the curtain call, the characters sang and told what eventually happened to him. But the audience missed the first few words of each summation, for it kept applauding enthusiastically. How terrific that each character required a longer musical vamp that would last until the applause subsided, so that their fates would be better understood. Granted, the crowd may have been applauding the actors themselves -- Malcolm Gets, Melissa Errico, Lewis Cleale, Nora Mae Lyng, and especially Christopher Fitzgerald did their jobs exceedingly well -- but I think they really liked the show, too.
To quote a song from Ambassador: "Charming. Charming. Charming." While it's often said that the best musicals have big events and big characters, Amour only had the former and not the latter. Here was another musical with a song about Nazis, a plot in which the protagonist steals a loaf of bread and becomes both a prisoner and a celebrity -- but there ended its similarities to The Producers, Les Misérables, and Chicago.
Twenty-six years ago, another small musical set in France -- namely, The Baker's Wife -- had a song called "Where Is the Warmth?" Well, that show had warmth and so did Amour, but it did neither one of them any good. Theatergoers prefer hot shows. On the other hand, The Baker's Wife does surface from time to time; it has done so once again at Goodspeed's Norma Terris Theatre, where it's now playing. Will Amour still be showing up a quarter-century from now? The Broadway failure of the worthy Side Show hasn't stopped it from getting lots of stock and amateur productions.
Some say the show really belonged Off-Broadway, and there's truth in that. Amour had the feel of a small foreign film, and those are traditionally see in intimate art houses. But I thought the show fit The Music Box like a glove -- and I don't mean O.J. Simpson's. Of course, I may be prejudiced; given the playhouse's name, I always like to have a musical at The Music Box. (It doesn't sport one all that often: Although the theater opened in 1921 with four straight musicals -- all Music Box Revues, natch -- it played host to only 22 musicals out of its subsequent 124 attractions.)
I started thinking that Amour might have been a good show for the Broadway Initiative. Remember that plan in the early '90s? Low-profile shows (like The Speed of Darkness) would open in less desirable Broadway theaters (the Belasco) where mezzanine and balcony seats were covered with sheets of plastic and only orchestra seats were sold. The top ticket was approximately half the price of the other Broadway productions.
The unions were asked to make financial concessions, all in the cause of economy; but few would do so, and there went that plan. Truth to tell, I doubt that the Broadway Initiative would have worked in any case. Telling theatergoers that they can see a Broadway show at half-price (without the long wait at the TKTS booth) makes them automatically think, "What's wrong with it?" If a show is good, they reason, it charges top dollar. If The Speed of Darkness had opened to money reviews, the money men would have probably started charging more money.
Almost two years ago, I was part of a debate called "Has the American Musical Theater Entered a New Golden Age?" I chose to take the affirmative stance and, in my impassioned opening speech, I noted that Broadway musicals were grossing multi-millions; that audiences now make for "critic-proof" shows; that theaters which once traditionally housed plays now often house musicals; that new shows have a grand diversity of musical styles; that young audiences are attending more often; that low-priced seats are offered for the first (not last) rows of the orchestra; that there's great repeat business for some shows; that ruined theaters have been reclaimed; that new musicals don't just pop up on Broadway but originate from sea to shining sea. I truly believed what I said, but I was decimated by one question from Gerry (Forbidden Broadway) Alessandrini, who asked, "But where's the charm?"
Ah, there you have me, Gerry! Where's the charm -- now that Amour has closed?
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]