I had a dream the other night in which I was transported to a quaint European city where the sounds of gypsy violins pervaded the air and romance was just around the corner.
Actually, this was a dream come true thanks to a gem of a musical brought back with style and grace by Infinity Theatre Company whose She Loves Me effortlessly casts a spell in story and song.
Even if you have not seen She Loves Me onstage before, chances are you know the story. During working hours, two shop clerks get under each other’s skin while simultaneously engaging in an anonymous lonely hearts correspondence. By the end, the happy truth is revealed. Sound familiar?
Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo, the original stage comedy, spawned film adaptations, starting with “The Shop Around the Corner,” starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan (1940). Nine years later, Judy Garland and Van Johnson starred in the MGM classic “In the Good Old Summertime.” More recently, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan exchanged emails instead of letters in Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail.” Could a social media re-do be too much of a stretch?
This version keeps the original Budapest setting and places the story in the early 1930s (with no hint of a looming war) The parfumerie is owned by the demanding Mr. Maraczek (Dick Decareau). His head clerk Georg (Adam Harrington) and attractive new clerk, Amalia (Analisa Leaming) are the sparring partners who are also passionate pen-pals. Their co-workers include the flirtatious Ilona Ritter (Jackie Washam), man-about-town Steven Kodaly (Matthew Amira), nervous Sipos (Mark Fishback) and wide-eyed delivery boy Arpad (Jimmy Mavrikes).
Intimate and personal, She Loves Me goes for sweetness and light rather than bold and brassy strokes. The masterful combination of book, music and lyrics strikes a perfect balance between the sophistication of the setting and the sentimental romance at its heart. Director and choreographer Andrew Rasmussen understands the delicate confection of She Loves Me, and provides a stylized yet believable world in which the story unfolds. Anshuman Bhatia’s sets evoke the old world elegance of middle Europe, while Tristan Raines’ costumes give the performers the look of the era and locale, topped off by stunning wig designs by Leah Loukas.
A myriad of musical styles give She Loves Me an exquisite European flavor. A nostalgic waltz offers Mr. Maraczek a chance to wax about his youthful days. Amalia turns a lovely music box tune into a fetching sales pitch. The womanizing Kodaly seduces Ilona with a sexy beguine. “The Tango Tragique,” a hilarious showstopper, punctuates a secluded café. And when a new romance is heralded for Miss Ritter, a gentle bolero is used.
One of the comic ensemble pieces warrants special mention. In Act II, Bock and Harnick included a number that telescopes Georg and Amalia’s warming relationship, while demonstrating the hectic holiday shopping season. Both story-telling devices meld into the dizzily comic “Twelve Days to Christmas.” The number begins as a languid carol, when shoppers enter Maraczek’s shop singing “Twelve days to Christmas, plenty of time to do your Christmas shopping.” By the end, the song frantically devolves into “One day to Christmas, not enough time to do our Christmas shopping! We’re not the shopple who peeped in time. We’re not the sheeple who popped in time.”
Musical director Tim Rosser helps the orchestra and singers bring a full array of colors to the score. Credit also goes to Wes Shippee for balanced sound design between the players and the singers, an important factor in such an intimate theatre space.
A uniformly excellent cast is lead by the soaring soprano of Analisa Leaming as the stubborn yet naïve Amalia. Originally written for Barbara Cook, Amalia’s songs demand a coloratura range, subtlety, comic timing and heart-breaking emotion. Leaming meets the vocal demands with ease and makes the part her own, as a singer and an actress. Her rendition of “Dear Friend” brings the first act to a heart-tugging close.
She Loves Me
Closes August 4, 2013
CTA Theatre Complex
1661 Bay Head Road
Tickets: $19 – $33
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
As Amalia’s foil and unknown pen-pal Georg, Adam Harrington is the picture of a decent guy, two parts charm and one part stick-in-the-mud. His likability and strong baritone were showcased in “Tonight at Eight” and in the catchy title song – reminding me of Fred Astaire during his breeziest moments.
Together Leaming and Harrington share a delicious chemistry and their relationship builds to a gentle, poignant climax by the final curtain – a perfect example of intimacy over bombast.
The rest of the cast offers able support to the leads. In lesser hands, Mr. Maraczek could be a caricature of a stern and elderly boss. Luckily, Dick Decareau uses understated comic timing and handles his role like a seasoned song-and-dance man. He could charm the socks off of anyone. Mark Fishback is a cuddly fussbudget as Sipos, loyal to the parfumerie but even more loyal to his job. Jimmy Mavrikes is an enthusiastic young Arpad.
As the serial lothario Kodaly, Matthew Amira has a devil of a good time, especially in his two songs, “Ilona” and his farewell, “Grand Knowing You.” Rounding out the staff of Maraczek’s is Ilona who escapes from Kodaly’s silky snare and finds clear-eyed love with an optometrist she meets in the library. Jackie Washam brings a powerful belting voice and an impeccable sense of comedy as the worldly Ilona.
Infinity Theatre Company’s She Loves Me boasts winning performances and an effervescent score. If you crave a romantic atmosphere, this valentine of a show may be the perfect diversion.
She Loves Me. Music by Jerry Bock. Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Book by Joe Masteroff. Directed and Choreographed by Andrew Rassmussen. Music Direction by Tim Rosser. Featuring Matthew Amira, Dick Decareau, Mark Fishback, Adam Harrington, Analisa Leaming, Jimmy Mavrikes, Matthew Patrick Quinn, Jackie Washam. Chelsey Lynn Alfredo, Max King, Carly Schneider, Andrew Way, Michael Windsor, Lauren Wright. Set Design by Anshuman Bhatia. Costume Design by Tristan Raines. Lighting Design by Jimmy Lawlor. Sound Design by Wes Shippee. Produced by Infinity Theatre Company, Annapolis. Reviewed by Jeff Walker.