It's a show that's so adorable you want to pinch its cheeks. It's so charming you want to take it out to the movies and then buy it a big dinner. And its music is so inventive and lyrical you just want to lay back in it like an audio hammock.
Yes, it is none other than She Loves Me, the simply titled but deceivingly complex musical that is now gracing the Beck Center main stage. Performed by an exceptional cast and featuring superb work by director Scott Spence and choreographer Martin Cespedes, this is an old-fashioned musical that scores on almost all counts.
Set in Budapest in the 1930s, the book by Joe Masteroff is a familiar one involving mistaken and hidden identities. Based on the play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo, Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash are clerks in a shop where they stock shelves with toilet water (no, not that. It's what they used to call eau de cologne) and cold cream.
Trouble is, Georg can't stand Amalia, and vice versa. So they spend their off hours sending anonymous love notes to pen pals who turn out to be, well, you know who. You don't have to be clairvoyant to suss out this plot, since this story has been adapted into three movies (The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime, and You've Got Mail), in addition to this musical.
What makes this tried and true story stand apart is the music by Jerry Bock and the lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Swinging smoothly from one European style to another, Bock's score is a constant delight. A reflective waltz gives way to a music box-inspired ditty followed by a zesty tango and then many other forms, all of which are perfectly suited to their content.
And Harnick's lyrics continually surprise, with the amusing split lyrics in "Sounds While Selling" being a prime example. Hearing only snatches of three different customers talking to three different salespeople we hear oddly combined sentences such as, "I would like...an eyebrow...under my chin..."
The humor is always gentle but the wit is sharp, so one never tires of this predictable romantic yarn with the inevitable happy ending.
A huge reason for that success is the cast, led by Rebecca Pitcher as Amalia and Jamie Koeth as Georg. Pitcher prettily pours out the anger towards Georg and she has a crystal clear soprano voice that turns the plain song, "Vanilla Ice Cream," into a showstopper. She is strong throughout, even though she misses some of the acting beat changes in "Will He Like Me?"
Koeth doesn't have half the pipes Pitcher does, with his rendition of the title song going flat a bit too often, but he acts his socks off and keeps pace. He is especially affecting in his dialogue scenes with Pitcher as the two characters dance around their love-hate relationship.
They are supported in fine fashion by the rest of the principal cast who play the other store workers. And each of them have standout moments. Jonathan Kronenberger is sweet as the dutiful employee Sipos, expressing his small dreams (he just wants to stay employed) in "Perspective." As the unlucky-in-love Ilona Ritter, Amiee Collier soars in "A Trip to the Library."
The boss with a heart of gold Mr. Maraczek is played by Matthew Wright with admirable restraint, and Brian Altman gives the hot-to-trot Steven Kodaly a slick yet oddly appealing turn. Even the delivery boy Arpad, played by the eager Brett Harmon Castro, lights up the proceedings with his Act 2 opener "Try Me."
Director Spence makes all this work fluidly in every instance except for an awkward transition into the nightclub scene. But choreographer Cespedes rescues it with the super sexy tango twirls in "A Romantic Atmosphere," which immediately follows.
In short, it's a team effort that turns this She Loves Me into a lovely show that will win your heart without bypassing your brain.
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