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Review: Theatre UCF's Sparkling SHE LOVES ME is One of the Year's Best

Last Thursday night, 1,079 miles apart, two different casts celebrated triumphant openings of the classic Bock and Harnick musical SHE LOVES ME. In New York City, the Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway revival opened with a cast of Tony winners and TV stars, while here in Central Florida, Theatre UCF's production might not boast a cast quite as famous, but it is no doubt just as spectacular.

Based on the play PARFUMERIE by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo, the musical centers on a Budapest perfume shop, where two feuding co-workers turn out to be secret pen pals who have fallen in love through writing letters. Running through March 26th, UCF's production is masterfully directed by Earl D. Weaver, and is easily one of the highlights of the Central Florida theatrical season.

While Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) are far more well-known for having written FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (also currently enjoying a successful Broadway revival), SHE LOVES ME is one of Broadway's most perfect shows, and Theatre UCF's infectiously delightful production thrives on the charm of its cast and the wit of its book (by Joe Masteroff) and songs.

Julian Kazenas, Evan Jones, Allyson Rosenblum, Joe D'Ambrosi, and Terry Farley
Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo | Theatre UCF

In one of the most inviting opening songs in all of musical theatre, we are introduced to Maraczek's Parfumerie's kooky collection of employees; Arpad (Evan Jones), an ambitious delivery boy; Sipos (Joe D'Ambrosi), a married man happy to be professionally invisible; Ilona (Allyson Rosenblum) a ditzy, but endearing clerk; Kodaly (Julian Kazenas) a sleazy lothario; and Georg (Terry Farley), the senior clerk now on the wrong side of Mr. Maraczek (Jarrett Poore).

Soon, Amalia (Sunny Gay) comes into the shop and earns a job, much to the dismay of Georg. From the beginning, there is an obvious chemistry between Farley and Gay. Their instant comic bickering sets the stage for a wonderfully entertaining and evolving relationship throughout the show. Though prickly at work, they each are warm and open in letters to their lonely hearts' club pen pal, never knowing that they are each-others' "Dear Friend."

Though both have nice voices, especially Gay who displays a bright and crystal-clear chest voice, neither is completely suited for Bock's more legit, semi-operatic score. However, that matters very little, because individually they are each delightful, but together, their feud and romance is delicious.

Sunny Gay. Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo | Theatre UC

The only real issue with the main couple is that they are just too attractive. The show's dialogue, especially for Amalia, suggests that they each turn to answering lonely hearts ads, because they are fairly plain people. However, with Gay's sparkling eyes and Farley's chiseled chin, the suspension of that specific disbelief is a little more difficult than normal; not unlike with their current Broadway counterparts Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi.

While, like the leads, many of the featured actors don't fit perfectly with the show's specific musical style, in the group songs, especially those that employ complicated harmonies, the cast sounds pitch-perfect, thanks to Music Director Dr. Steven Chicurel-Stein.

The ensemble has nary a weak-link, but the stand-out is certainly Rosenblum's illiterate Ilona. She is funny, sympathetic, and brassy. Her rendition of "A Trip to the Library" is one of the show's most memorable highlights.

As Mr. Maraczek, Poore, who displays a fantastic voice, is also extremely fun, especially when coming down unusually hard on Georg. Though D'Ambrosi has a tendency to go slightly over the top, his Sipos is always a hoot. Jones' Arpad, though not quite a singer, is exceptionally engaging, and Kazenas' Kodaly is appropriately slimy throughout.

Terry Farley, Evan Jones, Julian Kazenas, Jarrett Poore (center), Allyson Rosenblum, and Joe D'Ambrosi. Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo | Theatre UCF

While there isn't a tremendous amount of dancing in SHE LOVES ME, Kyle Laing is playful with what little choreography there is, including a nice nod to Bock and Harnick's most famous show, and Joseph Rusnock's scenic design elicits a delectably, cotton-candy feeling.

Even though SHE LOVES ME is often overshadowed by FIDDLER, it remains one of the purest gems in the musical theatre crown, and Theatre UCF's magnificent production is as sweet, substantial, and satisfying as you could ever hope for it to be.

So, if you cannot get up to New York to see the star-studded revival, do not miss Theatre UCF's spectacular production a little closer to home. To purchase tickets, visit Theatre UCF's website, or call 407-823-2862.

Did you visit Mr. Maracek's Parfumerie? Let me know what you thought in the comments below, or by "Liking" and following BWW Orlando on Facebook and Twitter by using the buttons below. You can also chat with me about the show on Twitter @BWWMatt.

Banner Image: Terry Farley and Sunny Gay. Photo Credit: Tony Firriolo | Theatre UCF

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