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The Playgoer: Welcome to the wonderful world of whimsy

photo courtesy of 2nd Star Productions/ Josh Hampton as the Gnome, Lindsay Espinosa as Amélie and Bill Fellows as Raphael.

        Amelie was a well-received 2001 movie about a young girl in Paris whose penchant for whimsy could not be stopped by a misdiagnosis of a weak heart. As she grows up, Amelie finds that orchestrating good luck for those around her is fun, but there is also that little matter of finding her own happiness.

            Reworked for the stage, Amelie lasted just 56 performances in 2017, but it lives on in local theaters across the country largely due to its simple score and small cast. It has now reached Bowie, where 2nd Star Productions is staging a delightful rendition that puts the show’s charm front and center.

            That charm is embodied by 2nd Star’s two Amelies: Naia Albert as the child Amelie and Lindsay Espinosa as the young adult gamine Amelie. Both bring a magnetic grace and mischievousness to the stage that translates perfectly to the lives that Amelie finds herself choreographing for those around her. And they both have lovely voices, a real plus in a show that is mostly sung.

            Amelie is the daughter of two distant parents (Bill Fellows and Lucy Newton), he a doctor whose only contact with his daughter comes with his monthly checkup. That rare physical contact is so exciting to Amelie that he misdiagnoses her as having a heart condition. They then cut her off from the world, homeschool her and wish they had a son. Amelie’s window on the world becomes her telescope and her imagination, as her goldfish (a lively Aref Dajani) comes to life, dancing and talking with her. As a young woman, Amelie  leaves home to become a café waitress, living a quiet yet happy life with her three coworkers, a former circus performer (Leigh Rawls), a hypochondriac (Christa Kronser) and Gina (Stephanie Bernholz), whose ex-boyfriend frequents the place. All three are excellent, together and separately, and with Espinosa form a quirky, quippy quartet.

            On the night that Princess Diana dies, Amelie discovers a box from the childhood of a man (Gene Valendo) who once lived in her apartment. She vows to return it anonymously, then help others anonymously. On the Paris metro she also sees Nino (Mark Zubaly, in a heartfelt performance), a young man to whom she is fatefully attracted.

            Amelie’s determination to help others weaves its way through the lives of all she meets, and along the way we are treated to some humor, some emotion and plenty of fun songs. We even get a crazy cameo from Elton John (a game Eric Meadows in a costume that looks less Elton and more like a leftover from Pharaoh/Elvis in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat). Director Kelsey Meiklejohn has cast most of the 13 players in several roles, quite effectively, and all have jumped in feet first to the waters of the show’s whimsy.

            Music director James Huchla and his six-person band are very good, keeping the volume low enough that we can hear everything that’s being sung, although some cast members could raise their own volume. Costumes by Linda Swann are excellent, as colorful and as whimsical as the story being told (except for poor Elton). Gene Valendo’s double-decker set, with paint by Jane Wingard, opens Amelie’s world to us.

            It’s not a show whose songs are memorable, and some of the male voices are uneven at best. But, just as Amelie’s pleasant manipulations lead her friends to happier lives, so do Espinosa’s talent and charm lead this cast to enthusiastic performances. The result: Each and every character is imbued with playful wonder. Amelie the show may not leave you humming, but Amelie the character and all her friends will leave you feeling the harmony of her world.

 

About 95 minutes with no intermission. FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, thru Aug. 24, 2nd Star Productions, The Bowie Playhouse at Whitemarsh Park, $25 w/discounts, rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com