by Mike Hoban
‘She Loves Me’ – Book by Joe Masteroff; Music by Jerry Bock; Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; Based on a play by Miklos Laszio. Directed by Ilyse Robbins; Music Direction by Matthew Stern; Scenic Design by Brynna Bloomfield; Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg; Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley; Sound Design by John Stone. Presented by the Greater Boston Stage Company at 395 Main St, Stoneham through December 23rd
The Greater Boston Stage Company and director Ilyse Robbins have again mined gold from Broadway’s lesser known catalogue, following up the wonderfully campy season opener Dames at Sea with an utterly charming production of She Loves Me, which debuted on Broadway in 1963. Featuring two of Boston’s most gifted female musical theater actors (Jennifer Ellis and Aimee Doherty – both fresh off sterling performances in the Huntington’s Merrily We Roll Along) as well as a pair of Boston’s emerging leading men (Sam Simahk and Jared Troilo), She Loves Me is a delight.
This underappreciated work is an adaptation of Miklos Laszlo’s play 1937 play Parfumerie, which spawned the 1940 Ernst Lubitsch movie, The Shop Around the Corner as well as In the Good Old Summertime (1949), and the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan updated remake, You’ve Got Mail, in 1998. With music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick – the same team that brought us Fiddler on the Roof in 1964 – the musical was a modest hit on Broadway and the West End when it debuted, and saw successful revivals in the 90’s. But the show hadn’t been widely produced until 2016 when Laura Benanti/Zachary Levi/Jane Krakowski gave it a new life on Broadway – to great reviews. Although it lacks the smash hit songs of ‘Fiddler’, the score is quite good and the talented cast make the numbers shine.
Set in Budapest in the 1930’s, She Loves Me tells the story of Amalia (Ellis) and Georg (Simahk), two employees of a perfume shop who are unknowingly each other’s pen pal lovers through a “lonely hearts” club. This being a romantic comedy, the two (of course) have a hostile relationship on the job while they eagerly await the first date with their “Dear Friend”. Amalia and Georg are not the only ones engaging in romantic intrigue in the shop, however, as Lothario Steven Kodaly (Troilo) and gorgeous but educationally deficient cashier Ilona Ritter (Doherty) are having a not-so-secret affair, one that is beginning to go south.
There are a number of smaller subplots in Joe Masteroff’s cleverly written book, which inform the musical numbers rather than simply serving as a springboard for a performer to launch into song. Robbins’ spare but deft choreography (no big dance numbers in this show) is also a huge plus in this enjoyable production, including a nice tango routine featuring Sarah Coombs (who was a hoot in Dames at Sea) and Bransen Gates. But it is the execution of the musical numbers (with the help of Matthew Stern’s outstanding musical direction), particularly by the quartet of the show’s leads, that elevate this production.
Ellis brings her trademark luminosity (she may have the most genuine smile in Boston theater) to the role, but is also convincingly vulnerable in the scene where her first attempt at meeting her betrothed doesn’t go as planned, and in the number, “Will He Like Me”? She also brings the house down with her rendition of the show’s playful signature tune, “Vanilla Ice Cream”, blowing away the audience with her stunning soprano. Equally good is Doherty in the comic bombshell role, especially in the terrific numbers, “A Trip to the Library” where she meets her new optometrist beau, and the amusingly assertive “I Resolve”. Simahk makes a welcome return to the Boston stages (he was on a national tour for a year with the Lincoln Center’s King and I), imbuing Georg with a quiet dignity until he explodes with glee when he realizes “She Loves Me”. Troilo is perfectly slimy as the two-timing Kodaly, and makes the most of his solo chance with his exit song, “Grand Knowing You”. The full cast is uniformly solid, with Nick Sulfaro executing a nice comic turn as the head waiter.
Scenic Designer Brynna Bloomfield’s simple but effective set and the cozy theater provide an intimate setting for the production, and Gail Astrid Buckley’s marvelous period costumes complete the package in this entertaining production. It even has a very funny Christmas number by the entire cast for those who are craving some seasonal flavor to their theater at this time of year. The ending of the show feels a little bit abrupt, but that’s a bit of a nitpicking detail in this charming little production. For more information and tickets, go to: http://www.greaterbostonstage.org/