She Loves Me
Produced by Arena Stage
Reviewed by Ronnie Ruff
Interviews by Joel Markowitz
Revivals of Broadway musicals are huge nowadays and there is little doubt that to be successful, everything needs to click: a good book, a strong score, characters we can care for and good performances. She Loves Me, the Christmas card sent to us this year from Arena Stage and Molly Smith, has all of those things and for me an extra bit of meaning. You see, I will be meeting a young lady I have been corresponding with from the UK at the end of this month. We have been exchanging email for the last three months or so in much the same way Amalia and Georg exchange old fashioned snail mail. This kind of fairy tale love story mixed with the magic of Christmas touched me and I think will touch you if you choose to get your ticket to this fantastic production.
Our story takes place in a perfume shop in 1930’s Budapest and details the stories of six salespeople who have much more than just their careers at stake. Two hopeless romantics are writing each other love letters without knowing it, The bicycle delivery boy wants to move up to perfume sales and one of the salesmen is having an affair. This wonderful plot mixed with the magic of Christmas provides the perfect setup for a great holiday play. Arena and director Kyle Donnelly deliver the goods along with some unexpected gifts along the way.
Unexpected gifts? There are two performance standouts in this gem of a musical. Brynn O’Malley makes her Washington area debut as Amalia Balash, our heroine who is so charming and so wonderfully perfect for this part that her strong high soprano is just an added present for your stocking. She adds just the right amount of naïve sweetness without overdoing it. She Loves Me’s second standout performance is the head waiter J Fred Schiffman who has decades of DC area theatre success. When Mr. Shiffman takes control of the café scene early in the second act the play seems to shift into overdrive. His stage presence and comic timing add just the right amount of energy at just the right time. His performance reminds me that while it is commonplace to bring in acting talent from New York, by no means is DC lacking in fine musical talent.
Additional standout performances are Clifton Guterman as the delivery boy who longs to be a salesman and Sebastian La Cause as the cad. The fact is everyone involved in this production from an acting standpoint deliver fine performances.
Technical aspects of this show are in keeping with Arena’s longstanding ability to put on a quality product on stage. The costumes by Nan Cibula-Jenkins are stunning and perfectly tailored. The set design is a good mix of simplicity and detail. Special touches are perfume counters that rise from the stage as needed and a number of things falling from the sky. Kate Edmunds makes good use of the Fichandler’s “in the round” space by moving the action from corner to corner. Nancy Schertler’s lighting works well with many of the costume color schemes to produce a colorful visual palette.
As with any musical, the music and the orchestrations are a major part of its success or failure. She Loves Me offers a few really fantastic songs (She Loves Me, Vanilla Ice Cream, A Romantic Atmosphere), composed by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler On The Roof) these tunes vary in tempo but maintain a wonderful sense of stylistic integrity. The fourteen piece orchestra is top notch and does not disappoint at any time.
While She Loves Me will never be considered one of the best Broadway musicals ever it is none the less a gem of a show and Arena’s revival is just the thing to bring a little joy to your holiday season. A charming story, good songs, a beautiful set, elegant costumes, soaring voices and fine acting – what more do you need under your theatre Christmas tree?
She Loves Me plays through December 31st at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street SW, Washington, DC. Tickets: $55 – $74. Call 202 488-3300 or purchase online at www.arenastage.org