Final Bow: Peek Inside the Childhood Imagination of Amélie's Maria-Christina Oliveras
The new Broadway musical plays its final performance on May 21.
Broadway's anonymous do-gooder Amélie plays her final performance at the Walter Kerr Theatre this Sunday, May 21. But before the brand-new musical leaves us for good, we wanted to follow up with one of the people who have been with the show from the very beginning.
Maria-Christina Oliveras originated the role of café owner Suzanne in the world premiere of Amélie at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2015. She then took on the part of widowed waitress Gina for the pre-Broadway run at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre — a role she now performs on Broadway eight times a week.
Oliveras has only a short time left to play in Amélie's whimsical world, so we decided to ask her about the memories she'll be taking with her when she leaves the Walter Kerr. It turns out she's always had a pretty vivid imagination herself, ever since she was a kid watching Sweet Valley High and drooling over Mikey from The Goonies. And good thing, because when "times are hard for dreamers," an active imagination is what gets you through.
1. What is your favorite line that you get to say?
"I met a plumber on the metro with a tool belt. He was kind of bald, but good in bed and fixed my leaky radiator."
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
There have been some pretty funny and somewhat explicit lyric re-writes...this is a PG-13 crowd right?
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
We actually have been pretty lucky. Because the show is a beautiful homage to theater and the imagination, there is minimal automation. One story does come to mind though:
After "A Better Haircut," our big trio number in the café, we all turn to Nino to see if he will man up and prove that he is worthy of Amélie. It is a very quiet, tender moment. For a couple of nights, in the silence before he responds, we heard someone warming up/vocalizing in the wings — it was really disconcerting and distracting. Stage management tried to track the culprit down, initially posting general notes: "Please be aware of noise during quiet moments. No vocalizing in the wings," etc. Then they got more specific: "We think it's a female voice," etc.…No one fessed up. After many "whodunits" and general hubbub, they realized it was a lighting instrument in an automated cue for that sequence! That instrument was subsequently fired...no notice…show biz.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
The show has inspired some really awesome presents: variations on goldfish, gnomes, all things Paris (macarons!), delicious food (sometimes home-baked, which can seem a little odd from strangers), letters and stationery (my character, Gina, is obsessed with letters from her dead philandering husband), charm bracelets that said "dreamer," and cool renderings of our characters. One fan gave us Starbucks coffee cups with the logo colored in to replicate our individual costumes. The resemblance of Gina to the Starbucks Siren was uncanny.
5. Who is the coolest person that came to see your show? (You can't say your family!)
Guillaume Laurant, the screenwriter of the film, Amélie, and his family.
6. In the spirit of Amélie, what is the most elaborate fantasy you concocted as a child?
I flew as a child. Point blank. Flew. No cape or anything — just a little FiliRican (Filipino and Puerto Rican) Superhero in her pink Care Bears onesie (the zip-up kind with the no-skid feet for safe landings). I would fly around my house, soaring down the stairs through my living room, hovering above the entertainment unit, which housed all the Disney classics on V.H.S. Indiana Jones was my dad. MacGyver, Corey Haim, and Sean Astin were my boyfriends. Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield from Sweet Valley High were my best friends. Marilla of Anne of Green Gables (played by Colleen Dewhurst) was my fairy godmother. Scooby-Doo was my dog, and Inspector Gadget always bailed me out of any situation. These are facts.
7. Who (or what) was your childhood best friend?
My Cricket doll. She was a life-sized talking doll. Looking back, she's actually kind of creepy (YouTube her!), not killer clowns or Chucky from Child's Play creepy, but close.
8. What's the nicest thing a stranger has ever done for you?
I've met so many angels in my life — countless smiles and words of encouragement have turned my darkest days around and inspired me to move forward and always try to pay it forward. Also, over the course of my life, I have been the recipient of many scholarships and the like which have granted me opportunities I never would have had otherwise. So, on some level, generous strangers have facilitated my career and education, and all that has led me to Amélie and beyond. For that, I am forever grateful.
9. The musical's opening number shows Amélie moving into her first apartment in Paris. Tell me about your first adult apartment.
I didn't realize how brutal my first apartment was until my best friend, an atheist, told me she actively prayed for me to get a new place. My devoutly Catholic mom lit candles at Church with the same hopes. It was a "studio apartment" — a small, dank room at a former hotel in the heart of Times Square, which was literally 100 square feet. I was able to pursue my dreams living there though, so I put on rose-colored glasses and overlooked the cockroaches, grime, lack of space, disrepair, and neighbors going to the bathroom in the hallways. Then, a family of mice and all their relatives decided to move in. I got bed bugs that same week. I saw these things as a sign that it was time to move on. Indeed, "times are hard for dreamers" sometimes, but it's all a part of the journey.
10. What photo do you feel best encapsulates your Amélie experience.