BWW Review: SHE LOVES ME at Bellevue Little Theatre is Sweet Stuff
SHE LOVES ME is a refreshing, light-as-air love story set to pleasant melodies in a Hungarian parfumerie. This musical with book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick opened at the Bellevue Little Theatre last night under the direction of Marya Lucca-Thyberg.
Originally a 1937 play entitled "Parfumerie" by Miklos Laszlo, the piece was adapted into film and a 1949 musical called "In the Good Old Summertime" starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson. You may recognize an even later film adaptation released in 1998 with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, "You've Got Mail." This core work has been around for more than seven decades and continues to evolve into concert performances and television programming.
In 1963 SHE LOVES ME hit Broadway under the direction of Harold Prince. Thirty years later it was reproduced as a Broadway revival, winning a Drama Desk Award for Best Revival.
The story takes places in the 1930's in Maraczek's Parfumerie. Sipos (Eric Micks), Arpad (Jake Parker), Ilona Ritter (Sarah Ebke), Kodaly (Kyle Avery), and Georg (Joshua Lloyd Parker) open the shop with "Good Morning, Good Day," and brightly usher each customer out with another musical number. They work selling perfumes and creams for Mr. Maraczek (Steve Pera). When Maraczek brings in a new product, a musical cigarette box, his employees are doubtful that it will sell. A young woman, Amalia Balash (Samantha Shatley), enters, demanding to see the owner. Maraczek hires her on the spot when she sells the first musical box to a customer, re-identifying its use as a candy box that plays music to remind its owner not to eat another piece at the risk of gaining weight. Amalia and Georg find themselves at odds with one another. Maraczek becomes increasingly hostile toward Georg with no explanation. Kodaly strings Ritter along with shameless flirtation. Teenaged Arpad delivers the goods along with a message that he is ready to be promoted to clerk. Sipos struggles to maintain peace in the store, thinking himself an idiot, but clearly the smartest person there.
This show is fully stocked with charm, humor, and entertaining musical numbers.
The six piece orchestra conducted by Chris Ebke is so good. I especially appreciated the woodwinds which deftly handled intricate runs as if they were simple scales. The orchestra is located on the left side of house, which meant I could relish every note they played from where I was seated. At times, however, their proximity to the audience made it a bit more challenging to hear any vocalists who weren't fully projecting.
Two of the musical numbers I found especially amusing were "I Resolve" sung by Sarah Ebke as Ilona Ritter, and "Tonight at Eight," a clever staccato number sung by Joshua Lloyd Parker as Georg. Ebke consistently delivers humorous songs with gusto and comedic skill. Her facial expressions and smart use of the slightest body movements are admirable. Parker pulls out his AMDA training and shines with great pitch, tone and confidence. Also a strong vocalist, Eric Micks gives us his "Perspective" as an idiot with a job.
Samantha Shatley reminds me of a younger Liza Minelli on stage. Her presentation of Amalia Balash reads a bit more brash than the character description of the shy Amalia I read, but it works well. I like it. Her push and pull with Parker is believable and comical. They sell the "boy-who-dips-the-girl's-braids-in-the ink-well-because-he-likes-her" school of thought.
The cast works smoothly individually and as a unit. There are many bright spots.
Staging is also fun: a bicycle rolling down the aisle, Arpad leaping onto the bed, a dropped tray, little things that catch the eye with the unexpected. For the changing of the seasons, a handful of leaves for fall and snowflakes for winter is flung up into the air. Silly, but cute! The scene "Twelve Days of Christmas" features some interesting choreography by Jai Renai and Rachel Busse. Abrupt little dance hops give the characters a frenetic sense of chaos.
Jimmy Nguyen's set design is pleasing with tons of pinks and yellows, appropriate for a store that mostly caters to women who want to buy sweet smelling perfumes. And because perfumes tend to be cloying, the shop is cluttered with excess 'stuff.' Nancy Buennemeyer incorporates nice costuming, but the nice becomes great when it comes to the hats.
If you like movies like, "You've Got Mail," you will like this show. SHE LOVES ME is about as sweet as a parfumerie.
Photo Credit: Joshua Lloyd Parker and Samantha Shatley by Joey D. Lorincz