BWW Review: SHE LOVES ME at Village Theatre - The RomCom that Wouldn't (and Shouldn't) Quit
Everyone loves a good Romantic Comedy, and when people find a good one, they latch onto it. Such a RomCom was the 1937 play "Parfumerie" by Miklos Laszlo. Now, if you're not familiar with that one maybe you're more familiar with some of the films that were based on it. There was the 1940 James Stewart-Margaret Sullavan film "The Shop Around the Corner", or how about the 1949 Judy Garland-Van Johnson musical version "In the Good Old Summertime". No? Well I'm sure you remember the 1998 Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan feature "You've Got Mail". And beyond those, the play also spawned one of the most underrated and underappreciated shows in American Musical Theatre, "She Loves Me" by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick with a book by Joe Masteroff, currently playing at Village Theatre. "She Loves Me" has been revived on Broadway since it's 1963 beginnings twice, plus a concert version in 1977, but still there are too many people who don't know the glory of this show. Well, Dear Readers, let's try and change that.
It has everything that makes a RomCom great. You have the main pair, in this case shop clerks Georg and Amalia (Eric Ankrim and Allison Standley), who don't quite get along. But what neither knows is that the other is the one with whom they've been corresponding through a lonely-hearts club. Think of it like a dating app through the mail. You also have a B-plotline with another pair of clerks who are all too familiar with each other, the womanizing Kodaly (Randy Scholz) and the love-struck Ilona (Taryn Darr), and their on-again, off-again affair. There's the comic relief with clerk Sipos (Mark Emerson) and eager delivery boy Arpad (Rafael Molina). And even a bit of depth brought to the piece by the shop owner Mr. Maraczek (Eric Polani Jensen).
I must say that I am obsessed with this show and have been since I saw the most recent revival on Broadway and then the subsequent airing of the filmed version on PBS. So, I'm quite familiar with the show as, I hazard a guess, is director Karen Lund since the Village version is quite reminiscent of that revival. At times a bit too much, but it's a great production so if you're going to emulate one, it might as well be the best. The problem with that is that the show didn't always come up with its own, new choices making it a bit cookie cutter if you're familiar with the other. But not everyone is, so let's focus on what's up there.
To make it all work you need romantic chemistry (check), comedic timing (double check), the ability to handle some more serious moments at the drop of a hat (had to break out my handkerchief check) and some killer voices (all of the checks). This show manages to hit every mark and then some, from the stunning forced perspective, dollhouse-like set from Matthew Smucker and the gorgeous complementary lighting of L.B. Morse to the pitch perfect costumes from Esther Garcia. And, of course, the fantastic Music Direction from R.J. Tancioco and some fun choreography from Scott Brateng. And all set to a delightful, never dull pace and staging from Lund.
And then there's this cast. Oh, this cast! Ankrim and Standley are a wonder together. With just the right amount of animosity that they keep chipping away as the show goes on until they have no recourse but to get together. Ankrim has always handled that "everyman with a heart of gold" romantic lead perfectly and here is no exception. And Standley has the pipes to blow the roof off any theatre and comedic chops to boot. Scholz slinks around the stage with a devilish grin making it easy to see why Darr falls for him, and that voice. Ooof! And Darr handles the giddy, sexy, extremely funny lady like no other, with a beautiful voice and dazzling moves making her a true, triple threat. Emerson manages a truly loveable sidekick with little bits and facial expressions that were comedy gold. Molina is adorable as the always ready Arpad and his sales pitch in act two was outstanding. And I must mention the brilliance that is Eric Polani Jensen who took, what can be a minor part, and made him the heart of the show from his exuberant leading of the tone-setting "Days Gone By" to its heartbreaking reprise that made me cry.
If you're familiar with the show and know of its splendor, you'll want to rejoice in a fabulous production. And if you're like so many I heard from who've yet to discover how wonderful this show is (even though it's been around forever and in so many incarnations), I demand you catch this production that captures everything that's magnificent about the show. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Village Theatre's production of "She Loves Me" a singing, laughing, crying and humming all the way home YAY+. And if I may, I'll leave you by saying "Thank you, please call again, do call again, thank you."
"She Loves Me" performs at Village Theatre in Issaquah through February 23rd and then moves to their Everett location running February 28th through March 22nd. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or the Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.