Entertainment » Theatre

She Loves Me

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Nov 28, 2017
Jennifer Ellis in 'She Loves Me'
Jennifer Ellis in 'She Loves Me'  (Source:Maggie Hall Photography)

You get swept away for two and a half hours of musical and comedic pleasure with Greater Stage Company of Boston's production of "She Loves Me." Brimming with charm -- and a strong ensemble -- the show, directed and choreographed by Ilyse Robbins, is a holiday season natural.

The book, by Joe Masteroff, is based on the 1937 Miklós László play "Parfumerie." (That play's various cinematic incarnations include Ernst Lubitsch's 1940 film "The Shop Around the Corner" and the 1949 Judy Garland musical "In the Good Old Summertime," as well as -- with a degree or two of self-aware remove -- Nora Ephron's 1998 rom-com "You've Got Mail.") The employees at Maraczek's -- a high-end shop in Budapest offering cold creams, colognes, and other such products -- go happily about their work in the summer of 1934; all is sweetness and song, and why shouldn't it be when the most pressing worry is that there are musical cigar boxes to be sold?

And to sell them, here comes Amalia Balash (Jennifer Ellis), recently laid off when a rival store closed. The harried owner, Mr. Maraczek (Tom Gleadow), is unreceptive to the idea of hiring her until Amalia smoothly sells one of the musical cigar boxes -- an item that manager Georg Nowack (Sam Simahk) has predicted would be a non-starter. This precipitates the start of a long and continuous battle between Amalia and Georg... a battle that the retiring Ladislav Sipos, a sales clerk, explains to delivery boy Arpad (Brendan Callahan) as being rooted in a mutual attraction.

Sam Simahk in 'She Loves Me'  (Source:Maggie Hall Photography)

How right Ladislav is! Though they don't know it, Amalia and Georg are well acquainted through their letters to one another -- letters they began writing thanks to an ad in a lonely hearts section of a newspaper. They sign their letters "Friend," and each has built romantic notions about what the other must be like. Idealized love thus meets mundane irritation -- two essential ingredients to any passionate relationship, but will the two of them ever put two and two (or even one and done) together?

If they did, they would not be the shop's only love match. Ambitious sales clerk Steven Kodaly (Jared Troilo) and cash register worker Ilona Ritter (Aimee Doherty) have a tempestuous affair going on that's far too heated to go unnoticed despite their efforts at discretion. As months roll by, the shop quivers with sexual undercurrents -- but also with a mysterious and worsening temper that afflicts the usually good-natured Mr. Maraczek. Discord sets in. Will a purge of the staff, or even bloodshed, follow?

The show's songs, with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock, possess a classical Broadway melodiousness that never fails to please. Frank Matosich adapts Don Walker's original orchestrations and music director Matthew Stern pulls off the trick of making sure that the music doesn't sound dated, but rather retains a certain freshness.

The cast of 'She Loves Me'  (Source:Maggie Hall Photography)

While the music is kept just contemporary enough, Gail Astrid Buckley's costuming is a delightful flashback to another place and time. Even the garments that Amalia, in one scene of emotional fervor, yanks from her wardrobe and then tosses to the floor have an eye-catching quality.

The cast -- strong singers all -- are miked, and sound designer John Stone ensures there are no distracting problems with static, feedback, or extraneous noise. Every player comes across loud and clear -- a little too much so, sometimes, as when characters greeting one another at a distance sound uniformly close at hand. Still, better that than dialogue marred by mikes that sputter and crackle. Brynne Bloomfield's scenic design strikes a balance between fairy tale-esque and cleverly practical; the shop opens up like a jewelry box, but is quickly and convincingly re-dressed -- with effective lighting design by Jeff Adelbert -- to serve as a fashionable cafe where courtship is the chief item on the menu. (Nick Sulfaro steals his scenes as an irate, snobby maître d'.)

The play is broken into two acts, the first of which plays like a headlong rush of giddy fun, whereas the second slows down to let us smell the rosewater and enjoy well-wrought character interplay -- as well as a sudden reveal that exposes one of the shop's tight-knit team as a rotten egg and the aftermath of a rash moment with a gun. Such dramatics might get out of hand if approached carelessly, but Robbins is as low-key in her handling of the script as she is colorfully inventive with the choreography. Things climax with a Christmas miracle of the "aww, shucks!" sort, making this show a choice pick for the season's theater crowd.

"She Loves Me" continues through Dec. 23 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.greaterbostonstage.org/she-loves-me.html

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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