Updated: Feb 4, 2021
This is a short piece of writing I did to refine my performance analysis skills as part of my BA English & Drama degree. It explores the song 'Times Are Hard For Dreamers' from the UK Tour of Amelié.
In the song ‘Times Are Hard For Dreamers’, the use of actor-musicians creates a feeling of pace as Amélie’s ensemble form a metro carriage around the eponymous character. Each playing an instrument live onstage, the performers perch on thin wooden benches rendered invisible by the draping fabrics of their coats and dresses. Rollicking piano chords - punctuated by the beats of Cajon drums and violins played pizzicato - build a sense of motion and are indexical of a train clacketing along its tracks. The use of actor-musicians in this moment creates a feeling of mechanical busyness around Amelie as her narrative takes off. It is notable that she is the only performer who does not also play an instrument, both highlighting her within the ensemble and suggesting she is yet to find herself as a part of it.
For audience members acquainted with the original Broadway score of Amélie, the revised folk arrangement of this song is refreshingly authentic. The onstage piano, used throughout the production to advance the story, forms the end of the train carriage and opens the song with fast-paced alternating chords - evocative of a landscape flying past a train window. The two Cajon box drums are hit softly like snares to mimic the chugging of a metro carriage whilst sat on by performers to indicate seats or suitcases. Alongside Amélie’s vocals, an accordion plays smooth, reassuring chords symbolic of the moment she begins to find her feet as well as iconic of the instruments typically played by buskers on the French metro. Amélie’s melody line is echoed by the violins and cellos, implying that she feels supported and intertwined with the people and sounds of Paris around her. There are moments during the number in which as an audience member it is impossible to locate whether it is musician or vocalist that is leading the song and it is in these points of interconnection that you most fully feel the emotion being portrayed. Whilst most of Amélie can be detailed through the rich semiotic signs onstage, this ethereal sense of symbiosis between singer, musician and audience resists being put into words in a truthful way.
Each instrument also speaks to the personality of its musician, suggesting that music is central to Amélie’s identity. With each actor playing an instrument, of varying sizes, the metro train is populated not only by people but also by items. The performers therefore move both individually as they play their instruments whilst moving together in their imitation of the movement of the carriage. Sitting back to back holding instruments, adding a busyness to the train carriage, the performers jolt back and forth together to symbolise the train pulling into a station. By the end of the number, this use of actor-musicians has highlighted to the audience the colourful, characterful world which Amélie is travelling into. Alongside this, it effectively sets up the central dramatic question of whether she will ever find the sense of identity she is searching for, in the form of an instrument or otherwise.
Lucas, Craig; Messe, Daniel; Tysen, Nathan (2015) Amélie The Musical, dir. Michael Fentiman, The Other Palace (London), Hartshorn-Hook Productions, Selladoor Worldwide and Broadway Asia Company in association with The Watermill Theatre. First Performance 11 April 2018 [20 January 2020].