Amour: a musical for our time
Updated: Sep 4
What would you do if you suddenly acquired a super power, say, for example, the ability to walk through walls? Would you try to get rid of it or use it to change the world? That is the question faced by Dusoleil, the hero of Amour, a musical composed by Michel Legrand with lyrics by Didier van Cauwelaret based on “Le Passe-muraille" ("the walker through walls”), a story by Marcel Aymé. The 2021 offering of the Arlington High School (AHS) Gilbert and Sullivan Club, Amour is closed captioned and can be viewed online anytime between Friday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 9, at 11:55 p.m. To experience the magic realism of this tuneful show, purchase your tickets here.
In the song "An Ordinary Guy," Dusoleil ("of the sun"), played by junior Dylan Scopetski, describes himself as a mere civil servant, "hardly worthy of mention ... a slave to convention ... without an ounce of pretension." So unimaginative is he that after he walks through the door of his apartment in the Montmartre district of Paris, his only thought is that he has contracted a malady that must be cured. The doctor he consults gives him a long-winded diagnosis, ending with “transmural syndrome," and prescribes some pills.
Dusoleil doesn't take the medicine, but he soon discovers some interesting uses for his unusual talent. First, he sticks his head through an office wall to taunt his obnoxious new boss, which sends the ogre into a mental institution, freeing Dusoleil and his colleagues from their detested overseer. Then he becomes a sort of Robin Hood, stealing from banks, groceries, and jewelry stores to help the poor of his neighborhood. “Playing an ordinary guy who becomes one of a kind and special has definitely been challenging," said Scopetski; "I have to have more energy as the show progresses to acknowledge that walking through walls is an extraordinary ability."
Having gained fame as a daring thief, Dusoleil finally works up the courage to approach "the irisdescent Isabelle," as he calls the woman he has loved from afar. Played by sophomore Hannah Markelz, Isabelle is immured (so to speak) in an unhappy marriage, but she sings of her hope that one day her dream lover, whom she calls "Passepartout," ("pass through everywhere") will lead her “to a magic land a hundred million miles from here.” Inspired by Dusoleil's audacity, Isabelle testifies against her husband, who was a Nazi collaborator, and he is hauled off to jail. By taking this action, Markelz noted, "Isabelle moves from waiting her life to unfold to becoming the agent of change in it."
Playing the news vendor who helps publicize Dusoleil's exploits is senior Sam Dieringer. "This has been one of the most difficult roles I've ever tackled," he noted, "with plenty of octave leaps and runs. The news vendor is the closest thing in the show to a narrator, and by going from paper boy to mainstay on radios across Paris, he, like Dusoleil, charts an incredible journey."
For Dusoleil, that journey leads to Isabelle. "When the walls fall away," he sings to her, "love sees the light of day," and then the two spend a rapturous night together. The next day Dusoleil develops a headache and takes what he thinks is aspirin but is actually the antidote to his transmural syndrome. This proves to be his undoing. As he leaves Isabelle's house after a second night of love, he becomes stuck in the garden wall. A group of neighbors surrounds him, singing that no one knew “he’d be destined for glory, that he’d be part of a story, and that it still would be told today." In fact, the passe-muraille is commemorated not only by the story but also by a sculpture in Montmartre, showing him emerging from a wall.
Although Dusoleil cannot escape his fate, Markelz noted that "he broke out of his shell and became the person he wanted to be, helped Isabelle leave an abusive relationship, and taught all the other characters valuable lessons." "I view the ending as less tragic and more inspiring" said Dieringer, "because Dusoleil embraced adventure, passion, and romance, and left a legacy to the once-dreary citizens of Paris." Scopetski agreed; “Dusoleil was celebrated for the way he helped others, so he made an impact."
According to director and drama teacher Michael Byrne, the theme of this year’s AHS Drama Department offerings is “the only way out is through." Clearly, that relates to the difficulties of mounting theatrical productions during a pandemic. “This show has been an extraordinary challenge,” Byrne observed, “and in many ways it flies in the face of good training for actors. Most acting is about listening, observing, and responding to your partners. With a virtual production, there’s less spontaneity and much more planning. It's a lot like creating a movie, and we have not done much film training, so that’s something new and exciting.”
Providing computer-generated instrumental tracks for the singers is accompanist Barry Singer, who has worked on 11 previous AHS musicals. “This is certainly my first time accompanying a show without having direct interaction with the cast," he said, "and I miss working with the students." Of the score itself, Singer noted, "I am a long-time admirer of Michel Legrand, whose style really defined a particular kind of pop music from the 1960s but is fresh-sounding even now.”
Music director Mara Walker, who came to AHS last year, observed that at first “the idea of rehearsing and performing a musical remotely was very daunting for everyone, but it has been such a great experience.” In addition to Byrne and Singer, she credited audio editor (and AHS music-technology teacher) John DiTomaso, video editor Kevin Wetmore of Arlington Community Media Inc., and "the wonderful student cast and stage managers" with solving every problem that has come up." "Working with all of them," she noted, "has been a true joy."
"I really enjoy acting through song," said Scopetski, but he admitted that creating a musical during a pandemic means that each member of the cast and production team has much more individual responsibility. “I’ve gotten a lot better at recording myself singing online," he stated, "and I hope to do more of that in the future. I’m very grateful to everyone involved in Amour for putting so much time and effort into a show that is fully virtual and fully prerecorded.”