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Sheer Perfection: 'She Loves Me' at Marriott Theatre

SHE LOVES ME is sheer perfection. It has long been a favorite musical of mine, so I admit bias upfront, but there is a reason it has stood the test of time and remained on my top 10 list. With lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, music by Jerry Bock and a book by Joe Masteroff, SHE LOVES ME is a beautiful adaptation of Miklós László play ILLATSZERTÁR (PARFUMERIE), a story that, in addition to musical form, has been adapted for the screen three times, the most recent, another forever favorite of mine, being YOU’VE GOT MAIL with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Enjoying a resurgence, thanks to the successful Broadway revival last year starring Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi, we are all falling in love once again with anonymous pen pals Georg Nowak and Amalia Balash, and a love story that harkens back to a time when we wrote letters to get to know one another rather than swiping right on our iPhones.

Here in Chicago, we can thank Marriott Theatre for melting our hearts as their production of SHE LOVES ME is, hands down, one of the best pieces of theater I’ve seen so far this year. In Alex Goodrich (Georg Nowak) and Elizabeth Telford (Amelia Balash) we have two actors who never, not once, make their familiar journey feel trite. For the most part, we all know this love/hate story and we’ve seen similar stories play out time and time again, ad nauseam, but under the direction of Lead Artistic Director Aaron Theilen, Marriott’s SHE LOVES ME feels fresh, urgent, genuine, and new.

The action swirls around us utilizing the extents of Marriott’s in-the-round space. Budapest comes alive thanks to Sally Dolembo’s vibrant costumes (Ilona’s shoes are to die for), Set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec, Lighting Designer Jessie Klug and Props Designer Sally Weiss create a Parfumerie that is every inch what you’d expect to have experienced in a ladies shop in the 1930’s.

Theilen has assembled a cast that understands a classical musical theater structure, an ensemble versatile enough to reinvent itself as numerous characters to support the action on stage, and a supporting cast that compliments and shines. There is no weak link in this production. Music Director Matt Deitchman has to be commended for guiding this cast through some vocally tough waters and making it look easy.

Numerous times I was struck by a line, that while familiar, felt like I was hearing for the first time. Telford’s interpretation of “Will He Like Me?” was strikingly vulnerable, when often the melodic nature of the song overpowers the actual lyrics for both the actor and the audience. And yet, Telford is able to use the gorgeous melody to her advantage. Pulling lyrics front and center and using the music to ride the anxiety she’s feeling. You can’t help but recall a time in your own life when you’ve been faced with the possibility of unrequited love.

The score, crafted in such a way that each character is given a solo number (or two), has the potential to be overwhelming. It’s a lot of exposition, but the cast handles it with ease, takes their moment, and then passes the baton. And while Georg and Amalia’s love story is at the center of SHE LOVES ME, this is a true ensemble musical, and Theilen understands that and understands the importance of all involved, guiding this production with a deft hand.

Goodrich’s title song has just the right arch and just the right build. Again, you run the risk of falling prey to Bock’s catchy music and missing Harnick’s lyrical thought transitions, but Goodrich doesn’t miss a beat.

And neither does this production. So, Thank you SHE LOVES ME, please come again, do come again. Thank You.