“She Loves Me” Sparkles at Westport Playhouse

 

by Tom Holehan

The 80th anniversary of the venerable Westport Country Playhouse has opened with great promise under the artistic direction of Mark Lamos with “She Loves Me”, the sparkling musical romance by Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.  Having endured more mediocre revivals of this deceptively simple musical than I care to recall, what a treat to see how utterly charming “She Loves Me” can be when in the hands of genuine artists.


Produced on Broadway in 1963, “She Loves Me” is based on a 1937 play by Miklos Laszlo which, in turn, inspired such American movies as “The Shop Around the Corner” in 1940 with Jimmy Stewart and the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan hit “You’ve Got Mail” in 1998.  The musical version is set in 1930s Budapest at Maraczek’s Parfumerie where employees George Nowak (Jeremy Peter Johnson) and Amalia Balash (Jessica Grove) are continually at odds with each other.  Unbeknownst to each other, however, they have been carrying on a romantic correspondence for an extended period never knowing each other’s name.  When they finally agree to meet, the stage is set for surprise, conflict, misunderstanding and, of course, a happy ending.


But wait, there’s more!  So rich is Masteroff’s book that fully-developed characters are created across the board in this lovely fairy tale.  There is Mr. Maraczek, himself, (played with poignancy and great feeling by Lenny Wolpe) who fears his beloved wife is having an affair.   Meanwhile, ladies man Mr. Kodaly (a dashing Douglas Sills) has been stringing along lonely yet fiery Ilona (scene-stealer Nancy Anderson) for far too long.  Add to this Christopher Shin’s winning delivery boy, Arpad and Michael McCormick’s sad-sack clerk, Ladislav, and you have a perfectly matched set of characters played by performers at the top of their game.


Mr. Lamos has cast even the smallest roles in “She Loves Me” with quality and care so that a true ensemble emerges -- it all works.  You know the casting is top-notch when a Broadway veteran the caliber of Douglas Sills is here playing a featured role…and playing it beautifully, by the way.  And I haven’t even mentioned that glorious Bock/Harnick score with gems like “Days Gone By”, “Tonight at Eight”, “Will He Like Me”, “Dear Friend”, “Twelve Days to Christmas”, “Vanilla Ice Cream” and the infectious title song given exuberance and full joy in performance by Mr. Johnson. 


Riccardo Hernandez has created a frilly delight in his scenic design for the parfumerie, Candice Donnelly’s costuming is smart and fashionable and Rui Rita’s lighting warm and inviting.  There is clearly lots to love in “She Loves Me”.  Make tracks.


"She Loves Me” has already been extended through May 15th at the Westport Country Playhouse.  For further information and tickets reservations call the box office at 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.


Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.
This review first appeared in Elm City Newspapers on May 5, 2010.

 

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