Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Greater Stage of Boston’s winter show this year is Joe Masteroff’s 1963 musical, “She Loves Me” with music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (who also wrote “Fiddler on the Roof.”) This musical is based on a 1930’s play by Miklos Laszlo on which the movies “The Shop Around the Corner”, “In the Good Old Summertime” and “You’ve Got Mail” are also based. “She Loves Me” takes place in a perfume shop in Hungary in 1930 and the characters live in a world of love and longing.
The two leads, Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash, are pen pals who even though they never met are deeply in love due to their love letters, but despise each other in real life. Two of the other clerks are supposedly in love, a meek clerk stands up to what he thinks is right, an errand boy becomes a man overnight and the owner of the shop learns a lesson from them. Director Ilyse Robbins takes her talented cast on a joyful journey to the 1930’s, entertaining a very appreciative audience all night long. They give the talented performers a well deserved standing ovation on a job very well done.
Ilyse not only blocks her cast splendidly, she elicits brilliant performances from each of them, too. She keeps the action moving throughout the performance so it keeps you riveted to your seat. Her astounding choreography also shines in this show especially the tango performed by Bransen Gates and Sarah Coombs in “A Romantic Atmosphere” and the chorus dance to “Twelve Days to Christmas.”. Musical director Matt Stern taught the lovely melodies to the cast as well as some terrific harmonies in the group numbers. He plays lead keyboards and conducts a fabulous nine piece orchestra. The marvelous two-story interior and exterior of the perfume shop with storybook set is by Bryna Bloomfield while the gorgeous 1930’s costumes are by Gail Astrid Buckley.
Playing the leads excellently in this musical are the gorgeous brunette Jennifer Ellis and tall, dark and handsome Sam Simiak as Amalia Balash and Georg Nowack. Jennifer gives this character a backbone from her first entrance demanding to see the boss for a job and in “No More Candy” while selling a musical cigarette box to a customer as a candy box, making Georg lose a bet to his boss. Jennifer has one of the best and most glorious soprano voices around. It soars in her feisty ones as well as the poignant ones especially in “Dear Friend” which close Act 1 where she bemoans the loss of her true love. Her other numbers include “Will He Like Me? before she goes to meet her pen pal with the comic ones being “I Don’t Know His Name” with Ilona and “Where’s My Shoe?” with Georg. Jen displays her exuberance in “Vanilla Ice Cream” where her voice soars off the charts and she finally admits having feelings for Georg at last. I last reviewed her in “Merrily We Roll Along” in September and the first time I reviewed her was in “Beauty and the Beast” in 2004.
Sam dynamically plays the clerk who longs to be loved by the woman of his dreams, never realizing she has been in front of him this whole time. One of his best moments comes when he stands up to his overbearing boss and quits the perfume shop. Sam possesses a strong baritone voice and shines in the nervous “Dinner at Eight” when Georg is meeting his lady love for the first time as well as in “She Loves Me” where he rides a bicycle on stage during it. Like most 1960’s musicals, this one has a happy ending when the two leads realize they love each other as the curtain descends, leaving the audience smiling from ear to ear. I last saw Sam in “The King & I” national tour last November. Both Jen and Sam have a lot of chemistry with other.
The secondary leads are marvelously played by Aimee Doherty as Ilona and Jared Troilo as Kodaly. They are supposed to be in love with each other but Kodaly is really a womanizer. Aimee, a pretty brunette, wears a red wig as the femme fatale who wants to be loved by a man. Her facial expressions are priceless. Her first number is “I Resolve” where she vows to stay away from the wrong kind of man when Kodaly stands her up for a date and the second is the hilarious “A Trip to the Library” where Ilona finds true love at last with an optometrist. I last reviewed Aimee as the man hungry vamp in “Merrily We Roll Along” in Boston. Jared is superb as the vain, callous cad. He displays a powerful tenor voice as the slick and smarmy cad in “Ilona” when he tries to seduce his fellow clerk and in “Grand Knowing You” when he tells his fellow workers what he thinks of them in less than flattering terms. Jared’s falsetto is terrific in this number. I last reviewed him as Lancelot in “Camelot” in May. Congrats to him and his pretty wife, Kira on their baby on the way.
The shy clerk, Sipos is well played by Robert Saoud. The audience finds out Sipos is a good friend to Georg, saving him from being fired in his big number “Perspective”, giving it the comic punch it needs. Another comic performer is Brendan Callahan as Arpad, the delivery boy who rides his bike on stage. Not only does Brendon display his strong voice in “Try Me” which earns him the promotion but handles the transition from boy to man with ease. Playing the seemingly hard hearted boss, Maraczek is Tom Gleadow. He sings a beautiful ballad “Days Gone By” at the start of the show and later on you find out why he was so gruff. Maraczek learns it is better to live in the present than in the past. Tom gives it the poignancy and comic touches the role needs. One of the biggest scene stealers is Nick Sulfaro as the head waiter. He tells his customers it is a place for romance. He bosses his customers and yells constantly at the clumsy busboy who keeps dropping his trays. Angelo’s haughty behavior in “Romantic Atmosphere” is splendid leaving the audience in stitches as does the “Twelve Days of Christmas” scene. So for a thoroughly enjoyable and energetic well acted and directed musical entertainment, be sure to catch “She Loves Me” at Greater Stage of Boston. Tell them Tony sent you.
SHE LOVES ME (24 November to 23 December)
Greater Stage of Boston,395 Main St, Stoneham, MA
1(781)279-7885 or www.greaterbostonstage.org