BWW Reviews: U of U Charmingly Stages SHE LOVES ME
"She Loves Me" is a delectable bonbon of a musical. It's little known to general audiences but adored by musical theater fans.
The University of Utah's Department of Theatre production embraces the musical's unabashed romanticism and lovingly reveals its many charms. Director-choreographer Denny Berry has masterfully conceived "She Loves Me," and her student cast is earnest and appealing.
This 1963 Broadway musical has a book by Joe Masteroff, a playwright who also wrote the script for "Cabaret," and songs by lyricist Sheldon Harnick and composer Jerry Bock, the team best known for "Fiddler on the Roof."
If the story line sounds familiar, it's because you know it from the 1940 film starring James Stewart, "The Shop Around the Corner; 1949's "In the Good Old Summertime" with Judy Garland; and more recently the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan 1998 feature, "You've Got Mail." Each is an adaptation of "Parfumerie," a 1937 Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo.
The basic story involves two lonely-heart secret pen pals who fall in love through their letters without realizing they have bickering relationship as perfume shop salespersons. The head clerk is the mild-mannered Georg Nowack (Jaron Barney), and there's an ambitious new clerk, Amalia Balash (Leah Hassett). The flirtatious Ilona Ritter (Conner Norton) is a co-worker.
Each of these actors sing lovely with a confident vigor, under musical direction by Alex Marshall. The roles of Amalia and Ilona are played by engaging actresses. Hassett and Norton understand the stylized musical comedy performance style "She Loves Me" calls for and winningly portray their characters. Hassett's "Vanilla Ice Cream and "Where's My Shoe?" are a delight, and "I Resolve" and "A Trip to the Library" by Norton are also treats.
"Tonight at Eight" and the title song are wonderful compositons but Barney's unsure delivery weakens their appeal.
The most striking aspect of this production is the oh-so-attractive set design by Kyle Becker that goes hand-in-glove with the period-accentuated costumes by Valerie Nishiguchi. They display an expert use of a restricted color palette. The entire set is black and white, while the ensemble is dressed in shades of gray with bursts of a single vibrant color: one actress with candy apple red pillbox here, an actor with a peacock blue cravat there, and a citrus orange shawl on an ensemble player over there.
To make the principals characters prominent, the leading men are dressed in black pieces with a single color accent while the leading ladies wear dresses of a single strong color with black accents in their shoes, gloves, and hats.
The gorgeous Harnick-Bock score is excellently performed on grand pianos by Ubeeng Kueg and Alex Marshall.
"She Loves Me" is pure enjoyment from start to finish; a feeling-swell musical that works its magic in 2013 as well as Laszlo's play did in the 1930s.
TOP: Leah Hassett as Amalia and Jaron Barney as Georg
BOTTOM: Conner Norton as Ilona, Ron Frederickson as Maraczek, and Leah Hassett as Amalia
Photos by Spencer Sandstrom.