“She Loves Me” (Westport Country Playhouse, 2010

By Susan Granger

Launching its 80th anniversary season, the Westport Country Playhouse has already extended this deliciously exquisite production thru May 15th, proving what they say, “Give the public what they want and they’ll turn out for it.”

Set in Budapest in the 1930s, the breezy plot revolves around interlocking stories emanating from Maraczek’s Parfumerie, where lovelorn Georg Nowack (Jeremy Peter Johnson) has been conducting an intimate pen-pal relationship with a woman through a personals ad. Since he doesn’t even know her name, he certainly doesn’t suspect she’s outspoken Amalia Balash (Jessica Grove) with whom he constantly bickers at work. Meanwhile, smarmy Steven Kodaly (Douglas Sills) is romancing gullible Ilona Ritter (Nancy Anderson), among others, the delivery boy (Christopher Shin) is yearning for a promotion and Mr. Maraczek (Lenny Wolpe) is having marital troubles at home.

Based on a 1937 Hungarian stage comedy by Miklos Lazlo, it spawned Ernst Lubitsch’s classic 1940 comedy “The Shop Around the Corner” with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, Judy Garland’s 1949 movie musical “In the Good Old Summertime,” this Broadway musical (which first opened in 1963, starring Barbara Cook, Jack Cassidy, and Daniel Massey), and the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail.” In each incarnation, a man and a woman carry on an anonymous correspondence, not realizing that they actually know – and dislike – each other in person.

Westport’s perceptive artistic director Mark Lamos weaves timeless magic, adroitly capturing the subtle, whimsical, innocent mood and lilting, unabashedly romantic concept created by Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick – and his casting is impeccable, as is the expertly crafted production with fluid sets by Riccardo Hernandez, period costumes by Candice Donnelly, lighting by Rui Rita, sound by Domonic Sack and music conducted by Wayne Barker. Now is the time to treat yourself to delightful, heartwarming theater that leaves you with a tear in your eye and a smile on your face.

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