Highly Recommended: Old-fashioned romance makes a nice break from serious messages
With so many reality, edgy plays pricking the conscience of today’s highly news-aware theater-goers, an old-fashioned, enchanting boy-girl attraction can become a refreshing change.
Luckily, Marriott Lead Artistic director Aaron Thielen recognized the need by bringing composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick’s and writer Joe Masteroff’s delightful 1963 musical, ‘She Loves Me,’ to this Lincolnshire theatre.
The plot: two people fall in love with each other through letters and later find out that their correspondents are people they know and don’t think they like.
That story line has been too good not to repeat in different forms over the years. Think “The Shop Around the Corner,” “In the Good Old Summertime” and more recently, “You’ve Got Mail.”
But “She Loves Me’ playing now at Marriott Theatre really harkens back to Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo’s 1937 play, “Parfumerie.”
And so, much of the action in Thielen’s production which he directs and choreographs, takes place in a wonderful, old-Europe Parfumerie that was designed by Jeffrey D. Kmiec.
It is inhabited by a talented cast garbed in charming costumes designed by Sally Dolembo that evoke Budapest in the 1930s.
The two correspondents are Georg Nowack, an earnest, head salesclerk in Mr. Maraczek’s shop played with beguiling ordinariness by Chicago theatre veteran Alex Goodrich, and Amalia Balash, a brash new hire who convinces Mr. Maraczek he needs her because she cleverly knows how to appeal to customer’s vanity. Another veteran of Chicago theatre, Elizabeth Telford tackles the role with dynamic vitality.
A character who complicates the plot is Ladislav Sipos, a self-effacing clerk wittily portrayed by James Earl Jones II. Sipos changes the perfumery’s atmosphere by sending Mr. Maraczek an anonymous letter saying his wife is having an affair with one of the store clerks.
Then there is Jessica Naimy as coquettish clerk Ilona Ritter. She has taken up with and been taken in by David Sclumpf who plays shop clerk Steven Kodaly, a suave ladies’ man.
Add to the mix is delivery boy, clerk-wanna-be Arpad Laszlo, played alternately by Grant Kilian and Johnny Rabe, and also the Headwaiter of the restaurant where Balash goes to meet her “friend.” The Headwaiter is a hilarious, Groucho Marx-style personality portrayed by Steven Strafford.
But tying it all together is Mr. Maraczek, nicely interpreted as a boss with undisclosed problems by TV and Chicago theater actor Terry Hamilton.
The music also seamlessly ties the show together. But except for the title song “ She Loves Me” none are particularly memorable. However, the plus is that each character gets his and her own song.
Mr. Maraczek has “Days gone By” and Arpad has “Try Me.” The main characters get a couple of duets but Amalia stars in “Will He Like Me?” and in “Vanilla Ice Cream,” which she enthusiastically sings while licking the cone in bed and Georg joyously sings the popular “She Loves Me.”
Ilona does a wonderful “A trip to the Library,” and her two-timing flame, Kodaly says goodbye to the clerks with “Grand Knowing You.” Sipos sings “Perspective.” And even the Headwaiter gets a song: “ A Romantic Atmosphere.”
Among the show’s many charms is the clerks’ way of saying goodbye to customers in harmony even when things in the shop are not harmonious. But the fun song is the rapidly increasing up-tempo rendition of “Twelve days to Christmas by carolers, customers and clerks.
Everything works so well that audiences might not be aware that the music matches the period. In “Stage Notes, Music director Matt Deitchman explained he wanted a sound authentic to the location and time so incorporated accordions and gypsy violin.
“We wanted the popular music of the period and location to be represented in the lives of the working class folk who make up the perfume shop,” he said.
Patti Garwood conducts Marriott’s excellent orchestra.