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Marriott's Take on Bock & Harnick's 'She Loves Me' Merits a Warm Embrace

My Mt. Rushmore of classic Broadway composer/lyricist tandems--meaning the top 4, which in this case would entail twice the amount of carving--would almost automatically include Rodgers & Hammerstein, Kander & Ebb and Lerner & Loewe. (In the last case, the lyricist's name comes first.)

Simply for West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim could well be my fourth choice, but that was their only collaboration and Sondheim brilliantly wrote both music & lyrics for most of his shows.

Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice obviously did quite well on Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Evita, but rather than take their stately heads for granite, I would opt to depict those of:

Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.

Composer Bock, who passed in 2010, and the 93-year-old Chicago native, Harnick, worked together on eight musicals that ran on Broadway, including the masterpiece, Fiddler on the Roof, and the pretty-damn-close, Fiorello.

She Loves Me, from 1963, came between those two shows--The Apple Tree, which I've also seen, came after--and had a nice Broadway run and a couple revivals, including last year.

It isn't a show that gets staged often.

I had seen it just once--back in 2003 at the Circle Theatre in Forest Park--so I was glad to note it on the schedule at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, which has produced over 150 different musicals but never it, until now.

Given how appreciably She Loves Me seemed to delight the opening night audience, it should fit perfectly well within the wheelhouse of Marriott's large subscriber base and please anyone looking for "a nice show" performed exceptionally well.

Derived from the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklós László, as was the 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner and 1998's You've Got Mail, the musical is set within a Budapest perfume shop--Maraczek's Parfumerie--in the 1930s.

As the audience knows from the get-go, Georg Nowack (Alex Goodrich) and Amalia Balash (Elizabeth Telford) are bickering colleagues but also anonymous pen pals who have developed quite an epistolary affinity.

Both leads are likable and well-sung, with Goodrich strong on "Tonight at Eight" and Telford particularly delightful on "Will He Like Me?"

The mostly Equity, mostly excellent cast features Terry Hamilton--who I recall quite fondly from TimeLine Theater's wonderful take on Fiorello some years back, and much else--as the shop's owner, Mr. Maraczek, and the always terrific James Earl Jones II as one of the store clerks, Sipos. They deliver excellent renditions of "Days Gone By" and "Perspective," respectively.

Also swell are Jessica Naimy as another clerk, the lovely Ilona, who dates her smarmy colleague Kodaly (nicely handled by David Schlumpf), and Grant Kilian, who as the young delivery boy, Arpad, delivers a first-rate "Try Me." (Johnny Rabe rotates in the role.)

There really isn't anything not to like about She Loves Me or this fine production of it, directed by Aaron Thielen with nice period costuming by Sally Dolembo and an elegant set design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec that well suits Marriott's theater in the round.

But this isn't Bock & Harnick's masterwork, or silver medalist, and similarly the show's book writer, Joe Masteroff--who would write the script for Cabaret--and original director, the legendary Harold Prince, would considerably eclipse the accomplishment of a very enjoyable but not quite brilliant musical.

Although She Loves You features several appealing songs that well-accompany the "lonely hearts" narrative--with "Vanilla Ice Cream" being the most memorable--for me none quite rank with the numerous remarkable tunes in Fiddler and Fiorello.

While the sweet storyline should be embraced by romantics of any age, it's entirely predictable at least as far as the two main characters are concerned, and despite the excellent cast, some of the secondary plots begin to feel overdone deep into Act II.

It was great to see the audience warmly deliver a standing ovation, and along with all the actors, musicians and crew involved, I applaud the routinely superlative Marriott Theatre for putting on a musical deserving of greater familiarity.

Even if about She Loves Me I can only reciprocate the affection so far.