Plenty to like in this 'She Loves Me'
Don’t we all fantasize that if we could be seen for who we really are — instead of being judged by how we look, where we work and what we earn — we’d be liked and even loved by people who don’t currently give us a second thought?
That’s the fantasy at work in “She Loves Me,” the exquisite 1963 musical teaming Joe Masteroff (book), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Jerry Bock (music). It’s now on stage an hour’s drive to our south, in a Marriott Theatre production being directed by Aaron Thielen (Greendale High School, ‘90).
“She Loves Me” is one of four adaptations — including the films “The Shop Around the Corner” (James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan), “In the Good Old Summertime” (Van Johnson and Judy Garland) and “You’ve Got Mail” (Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) — of “Parfumerie,” a 1937 Miklós László play.
“She Loves Me” features the same premise as that play: Two bickering coworkers in a 1930s Budapest cosmetics store fall in love through the letters they write each other, not realizing that the unknown “dear friend” with whom each of them corresponds about books, art and music is actually someone seen and actively disliked, every day.
When Georg and Amalia are working together rather than writing each other, they can’t see how much they share — even when it’s clear to Sipos (James Earl Jones II), their older coworker. They may work in a beauty store, but they nevertheless mistake appearance for reality — failing to connect the beauty in the person they read with the seemingly ordinary co-worker they see.
As Georg and Amalia, Alex Goodrich and Elizabeth Telford (Maria in Skylight Music Theatre’s legendary 2012 “The Sound of Music”) come across as ordinary, each embodying what a hilarious head waiter (Steven Strafford) says to Amalia while she waits for her mystery man to appear: They’re “nice” and “presentable,” even if neither one is “a beauty-contest winner.”...
...Conversely, Georg and Amalia are made beautiful by each other.
As Georg, Goodrich is personable enough with customers but otherwise shy; Goodrich suggests a man who knows his worth even as he doubts that others will ever see it.
Telford’s Amalia is much the same; her Amalia has a romantic streak and she’s fleetingly able to imagine herself as the heroine of one of the many books she reads. But Telford’s sheepish, wistful smile also suggests a woman plagued with doubt and prepared for disappointment; she can’t quite believe that she might actually live the letters she blissfully writes and reads.
We can, particularly when we listen to Telford’s gorgeous soprano, channeling a joy that makes Telford glow; when she concludes a beautiful rendition of “Vanilla Ice Cream” by climbing heavenward, we’re primed for the corresponding joy in Goodrich’s immediately following rendition of the title song.
Not that these two actors get all the limelight. “She Loves Me” spreads the love around, giving each of its seven main characters a chance to shine, from the store’s proprietor (an alternately avuncular and melancholy Terry Hamilton) recalling days gone by through a young messenger boy (a winning Johnny Rabe in the performance I saw; the part is double cast) hoping for a promotion.
Costumed by Sally Dolembo as a cross between the snazzy heyday of the MGM musical and an authentic Hungarian past, they spin this confection in the Marriott’s in-the-round space on a pastel-colored set of pinks, yellows and reds (set design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec).
That set suggests the musical candy box described by Amalia in her first song. When the sweets therein taste this good, it’s little wonder that we want to raise the lid and sample more. This “She Loves Me” is that sort of addictive treat.