BWW Review: SHE LOVES ME Charms at AUSTIN PLAYHOUSE
SHE LOVES ME is a rare gem in the 21st century. Uncomplicated and practically wholesome in it's charm, SHE LOVES ME is based on the 1937 play PARFUMERIE by Hungarian playwright Miklós László. Its reincarnations include the films In The Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson, and the more current You've Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. SHE LOVES ME premiered in 1963 and was revived in the 1990's and 2016 on Broadway. Trivia buffs might know that Jack Cassidy (David and Shaun's dad) originated the bad boy role of Kodaly in the premiere.
In this romantic comedy, boy meets girl in a perfume shop. Boy meets girl when she comes in for a job. They get off on the wrong foot, since she manages to help his boss beat him on a bet. They're oil and water by day, but by night, they're secretly writing to one another thanks to a lonely hearts club connection. As one might expect, everyone knows they're in love before they do, and we get to enjoy the ride toward their happily fated union
The idea plays well in SHE LOVES ME, due in part to the earnest and believable actors in this Austin Playhouse production. Thank goodness we don't get saccharine and cornball! A cast of ordinary clerks, a shop owner, a delivery boy and their customers make up this endearing work family, each an archetype we've come to expect in the typical love story. But SHE LOVES ME excels at drawing us in through song. Jerry Bock's music and Sheldon Harnick's lyrics serve to drive character development in this darling of a musical, and each character gets a chance to show us just who they are.
Joey Banks is a convivial and earnest Georg and Sarah Zeringue a plucky, but vulnerable Amalia. As a pair, they're charming, though through a good part of the play they hardly get a chance to talk to one another, since there's other drama happening, too. Ilona (Marie Fahlgren) and Kodaly (Stephen Mercantel) are a frisky couple on the fritz, and to say more here would spoil our story. Mr. Maraczek (a commanding and benevolent Rick Roemer) is having his own personal problems. Rounding out the team at Maraczek's, Sipos (Tim Blackwood) is a weary, but generous, wise, and loving friend and husband. (Remember the unseen neighbor from the sitcom Home Improvement - that's kinda Sipos.) And finally, Arpad (a simply adorable Bryce Ray) is working his way from delivery boy to clerk.
The ensemble in this production brings us some especially fun song and dance. Here, choreographer Judy Thompson-Price shows us her versatility in keeping both intimate and ensemble numbers nimble and interesting, especially on a smaller stage. Though the charm of this show is in the intimate appeal of the parfumerie, these numbers are loads of fun. A hysterical Huck Huckaby (Waiter) and delightful Michael Wheeler make the restaurant scene especially enjoyable.
On the night I attended, the energy didn't seem to pick up speed until most of the first act was complete. To be fair, the numbers in the first part of the show are not as energetic as the last half, so it's hard to fault the cast and director. Scott Shipman makes sure his cast is sincere and authentic. Bryce Ray, Huck Huckaby, and Rick Roemer stand out in this production for the extra spark of enthusiasm and joy they bring to their roles.
Lyn Koenning cleanly directs the music and conducts this charming score with poise. LIghting and set design are in this case, functional. I'm looking forward to what the Austin Playhouse will bring us when they make the move to their new digs. And I must tip my hat to Jennifer Rose Davis, whose costuming is on point here, as usual. I may need to find out where she shops for shoes.
SHE LOVES ME is not for everybody. If you like your theatre edgy or your revivals to include the trendy new idea of bringing forth a dark subtext, this production may not be for you. But if you're looking for some solid good non-confrontational entertainment in the face of enough of that in the real world, you're going to enjoy SHE LOVES ME.
SHE LOVES ME
Directed by Scott Shipman
with Musical Direction by Lyn Koenning
ACC HIGHLAND 6001 AIRPORT BLVD, AUSTIN, TX BLDG 4000
November 22- December 21, 2019
Tickets available here.