Marriott's 'She Loves Me' a romantic musical comedy charmer
It's hard to believe the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire has never staged "She Loves Me" until now. That's because the intimate and involving glories of "She Loves Me" prove to be such an ideal fit.
The premise of "She Loves Me" is simple. The sparring Budapest beauty shop clerks Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash are actually unbeknown pen pal lovers. Yet, before they make that discovery, there are complications involving conniving co-workers and a clumsy cafe staff. It was not a box office smash at its 1963 premiere. Yet, "She Loves Me" has only grown in stature following critically acclaimed Broadway revivals in 1993 and 2016.
Each catchy number in the score by "Fiddler on the Roof" songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick skillfully develops the quirky characters or advances the plot along. And the sharp script by Joe Masteroff, based upon Miklós László's 1930s Hungarian play "Parfumerie," easily stands up to better-known Hollywood film adaptations like "The Shop Around the Corner" and "You've Got Mail."
With such strong material, the fine Marriott cast delivers loads of laughs and can also elicit a few tears, too.
Acclaimed for previously zany turns in the Marriott's "How to Succeed in Business ..." and "Elf," Alex Goodrich gets to show more restrained dramatic range in the leading man role of Georg. He's wonderfully matched by the Amalia of Elizabeth Telford, who deploys her lovely soprano voice in showy numbers like "Will He Like Me?" and "Vanilla Ice Cream." Both Goodrich and Telford bring out their characters' contrariness and insecurities in equal measure.
The supporting cast is also a delight. James Earl Jones II is hilarious as the pessimistic clerk Ladislav Sipos, while Terry Hamilton makes for an irascible eccentric as the boss, Mr. Maraczek.
As the on-and-off-again secondary couple, Jessica Naimy and David Schlumpf respectively generate palpable sparks as the feisty Ilona Ritter and the oily lothario Steven Kodaly. Also allowed to shine with commanding numbers are Steven Strafford as the controlling Headwaiter and Grant Kilian as the overeager delivery boy Arpad (Johnny Rabe alternates in the role).
Designers Jeff Kmiec (sets), Sally Dolembo (costumes) and Jesse Klug (lighting) all ensure that the Marriott's "She Loves Me" is picture-perfect, while Aaron Thielen directs the production with an assured hand. My only quibble is that Thielen's choreography can be muddled. I've previously seen far funnier and more focused takes on the boisterous ensemble numbers "A Romantic Atmosphere" and "Twelve Days to Christmas."
But overall, the Marriott does right by "She Loves Me" as a guaranteed romantic musical comedy charmer. It's surprising that it took so long to find such a harmonious home in Lincolnshire.