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Highly Recommended: 'She Loves Me'

Highly Recommended ★★★★★

Long before “computer dating services”, people had an opportunity to meet others through what was called a “newspaper classified ad-PERSONALS” ( a newspaper was the daily or weekly news articles printed on real paper) and using the Unites States Mail ( or any other country’s system) sent a “pen-Pal” or “lovelorn letter” to a stranger. The new show (an old classic by my standards), “She Loves Me”, now gracing the stage at Marriott Theatre, is based on the book “Parfumerie” written by Miklos Laszlo back in 1937. A film version of this play was “The Shop Around The Corner” (1940) starring James Stewart, and later, another remake titled “In The Good Old Summertime” starring Judy Garland. These are indeed names that are memorable for my generation, but not so for today’s theater audiences. But wait, there is more!

This musical version, “She Loves Me” with the music and lyrics by the team that brought us “Fiddle on the Roof”, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock and a book written by Joe Masteroff (“Cabaret”) hit Broadway in 1963 , and was later revived in 1993. For those of you far too young for any of this great history, let’s bring you closer to the present with the film “You’ve Got Mail” that huge box office smash starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, rival bookshop owners who fall in love On-Line! To be honest, this is pretty much the same story, except it is a perfume shop and they are both employed there. Oh, it is the 1930’s and we are in Budapest!

The basic story is about the perfume shop owned by Mr. Maraczek (another outstanding business-man played by Terry Hamilton). It is a very special shop and the manager, Georg Nowack (the incredible and adorable Alex Goodrich) we learn has been in touch with his pen-pal “dear friend” and is waiting to have that first meeting with her. On this particular day, a new hire at the shop , Amalia Balash ( the delightful Elizabeth Telford, with a voice that will astound you) comes on board, despite Georg not wanting her. Turns out that she also has a “pen-Pal”. It is easy to figure this plot out. They have been communicating with each other, but not having ever met or even spoken, the future becomes very comical.

The other shop employees are: Ilona Ritter (Jessica Naimy is a hoot) who is having a fling with “playboy clerk”,Steven Kodaly (deftly handled by David Schlumpf) and Ladislav Sipos (the always reliable James Earl Jones II, who I have learned can play any type of role and do so with energy, style and grace) along with delivery boy-want to be clerk Arpad (played tonight by Grant Kilian who alternates with Johnny Rabe) . Each of these characters has a small story of their own, but it is the blending of personalities that makes them more of an “extended family”. Back before the millenium, I was asked to join Lake Zurich Players in their production of this musical. I did not know much about the show back then, but once I saw the script, I fell in love with the entire story and the music. Songs such as “Good Morning, Good Day”,, “I Don’t Know His Name”, “Will He Like Me”, “Dear Friend”, “Try Me”, the frantic “”Vanilla Ice Cream”, “Grand Knowing You”, “Twelve Days To Christmas” ( a delightful anti-retail number), the title song “She Loves me” and many more. I even got to do a song and dance number “Days Gone By” in which Hamilton was a smash!

There are many who might call this a “chamber musical” rather than a musical comedy, and I might just agree with them. Directed and choreographed by Aaron Thielen to perfection on the arena stage with love and adoration for the music and the script, one feels that his direction is from the heart and soul of one who has done the play before and still loves the piece. It truly shows! The set by Jeffrey D. Kmiec is beautiful and while a number of pieces, the actors are never blocked by the set. Jesse Klug’s lighting and Robert E. Gilmartin’s sound are ideal. The costumes by Sally Dolembo and the props by Sally Weiss fill out the technical side. David Siegel did the orchestrations for this production, and the musical direction by Matt Deitchman is superb. Some of these songs are word-filled, tongue-twister types, but they all got it! As always the Marriott orchestra is conducted by Patti Garwood.

While this is a limited cast play, there is an ensemble, small in numbers but huge in talent: Steven Strafford, Lillian Castillo, Laura Savage, James Rank, Jeff Pierpoint, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Aaron Holland, Allison Sill, Cassie Slater, Jason Slattery and Brandon Springman. They play many roles, and make the audience feel that the cast is much larger than the real numbers. The show is filled with funny moments, a few sad and many truly real emotional thoughts and ideas. Rememeber, this was a long time ago, people lived much simpler lives and communications were far more difficult than today. This is a story that will have meaning for all. There are some sub-stories that I will not go into detail on as I would hate to ruin it for you. I will tell you that during this 2 hours-thirty-minutes (with an intermission), you will have a good time and be greatly entertained. I for one want to thank Marriott for digging deep down and doing something that most of their vast audience never saw- now, that’s entertainment!