Theatre Review: She Loves Me

Here we go again. A revival of a musical (She Loves Me, 1963) predated by two movies (Shop Around the Corner, 1939 and The Good Old Summer Time, 1949) and followed by another movie (You’ve Got Mail, 1998). With so many iterations, are we in trouble for too many permutations on a plot line of boy-meets-girl and girl-meets-boy but both are in love with their imagination of whom they believe the other to be but can’t stand each other when they work with each other day to day? Oh, did I mentioned that all this was based on the 1937 Hungarian playwright’s, Nicholaus Leitner Laszio, play Illatszertnar (Parfumerie), set in a perfume shop, later changed to a habardashery then to a music store then to a children’s book store.

But, I will admit that we watch Shop around the Corner, with Margaret Sullivan and Jimmy Stewart, most Christmas-movie seasons. We have developed a romanic attachment to it’s Budpest. But, we did not know about Judy Garland and Van Johnson, Chicago music shop setting In the Good Old Summertime. Did I mentioned Judy Garland… of course, she needs to have a vehicle for some song and dance numbers. What fun. And, we were just into our single 30’s years when Nora Ephron took the new medium of e-mail for You’ve Got Mail to bring together two book store competitors to find love and lots of romantic spots in Manhattan. We watched both of those movies the week before attending Signature Theatre’s production to get into the mood.

All of that is to say that we did not know, nor have seen, She Loves Me, until now.

One issue with stories is that we have heard them all, and each time a storyteller picks up a plot, they need to make it their own, but not diverge too much. The Romans took the Greek stories which came from Persian, Egyptian, Hebrew stories. Shakespeare picked up all of these. The 19th century writers of three volume novels transferred them on to the 20th century, and we re-use them today. The perfume store to haberdashery to music store to book store sequence works, as each gives a slightly different setting in which the characters can struggle and discover. She Loves Me puts the story back into a perfume shop.

While the core characters, boy and girl, older shop owner, side-kick companion, were essentially the same in each production, secondary characters, the unfaithful secondary lovers/exploiters, errand boy, customers shifted slightly to fit each of the formats. In Signature Theatre’s production this gave some opportunities for supporting roles to shine. Maria Rizzo (playing the cashier, Ilona Ritter) swings right onto and around the stage with the boldest lipstick whether she is smiling, pursing or puckering depending on which man is around her. Emmanuel Elliot Key (playing the delivery boy, Arpad Laszio) brings some clever physical comedy which is discrete enough to not upstage the primary characters (on a side note, we saw him in Howard Unversity’s production of Flyin’ West a few years back, so we are pleased to see that group moving into their professional lives). I would have to fill too many lines to give appreciation for other cast members.

That brings us back to the develop of the love-interest relationship between George Nowack (Deven Kolluri) and Amalia Balash (Ali Ewoldt). Mr. Nowack is the lead salesman in the store and Miss Balash comes into looking for work. Deven walks and talks with an air of superiority, while hiding his romantic side, and pretending to not be emotionally involved with the drama going on in the store. Ali comes off as sweat and cunning. She could appear to have her head spinning, but at the right moment she turns you around to do her bidding. Any wonder that I fell for Miss Balash and the Mrs fell for Mr. Nowack?

She Loves Me, in its 1963 book (Joe Masteroff), music (Jerry Bock), and lyrics (Sheldon Harnick), succeeds in staying close enough to the original intent, but suffers from being from… 1963. It came at the tail-end of the Great American Musical era, but before moderns style musicals of Sondheim and Lloyd-Weber. It is trying too hard to fit into the former genre, but society was moving on to more complicated relationship styles.

This brings up my main criticism of this production. It lacked the subtle, gentle moments that make the eventual revelation that Mr. Nowack is the writer of the Dear Friend letters, and the innocent acceptance of Miss Balash to his embrace and kiss. Rather, this production went for the big gestures, mugging, and slap-stick routines (which really got going in the restaurant dance number ”A Romantic Atmosphere” where Miss Balash’s heart is crushed when Mr. Nowack shows up rather than her anticipated love interest).

As fun as the big number tunes are, this is a sweet story, not a brash story. As fun as the prat-falls and strutting one’s style are, this is a gentle story, not a your-so-vain story. But, with the format of the 1963 script, any company would have difficulty building the subtly of relationship which would make the eventual union of these two love interests believable in their triumphant embrace. Otherwise, this couple is in for a lot of hot, passionate fighting after the house lights come up.

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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8 Responses to Theatre Review: She Loves Me

  1. cindy knoke says:

    Enjoyed your review very much. Have a wonderful visit with your relatives.

  2. I, too, enjoyed your review. Not sure you sold me on the play, though. 😉

  3. I love this review not only because you obviously enjoy plays and get right into them, but because of the context and contrast you provided between new and earlier versions of this plot – and the mention of how western stories borrowed from ancient, often non-western ones.

  4. I love your reviews!! Thank you! You really get into it, and give us some of the background on each one. I wish I was that attentive to detail.
    Blessings!

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