by Roseann Cane
When was the last time you left a theater feeling exuberant, even beguiled? For me, it was about 24 hours ago, right after Capital Repertory Theatre’s opening night of She Loves Me. I’m still smiling.
She Loves Me originally opened on Broadway in 1963 with a star-studded cast that included Barbara Cook, Daniel Massey, and Jack Cassidy. Inspired by a 1936 Hungarian play (which in turn inspired the 1940 film classic The Shop Around the Corner, 1949’s In the Good Ole Summertime, and 1998’s You’ve Got Mail), it was only moderately successful, a romantic jewel box of a musical without any big song-and-dance numbers, outshone by the bold, brassy hit, Hello, Dolly! But She Loves Me continues to attract an ever-growing fan base, and it has enjoyed many revivals in the U.S. and the U.K.
One reason for its lasting appeal is that the story is about “real” people. The workers in a perfume shop in 1930s Hungary steer the tale of two bickering coworkers, Georg Nowack (Michael McCorry Rose) and Amalia Balash (Julia Burrows), who have a secret: Each is exchanging letters to a potential mate found through a lonely hearts club. Meanwhile, a womanizing clerk, Steven Kodaly (David Girard), manipulates love-struck Ilona Ritter (Tracy Jai Edwards) even as he claws his way into the boudoir of a woman of means. Rounding out the shop associates are the bicycle-riding delivery boy, Arpad (an endearing Jimmy Bain), kindly clerk Ladislav Sipos (an affable, very amusing Marc de la Concha), and shop owner Mr. Maraczek (a commanding, poignant Kevin McGuire).
Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill has assembled a startlingly good cast. Their singing voices, all of them, are glorious. I have heard the original cast recording many times, yet I found the show’s signature numbers, Amalia’s “Vanilla Ice Cream” and Georg’s “She Loves Me,” heart-stoppingly good. Rose and Burrows have a palpable chemistry, and their performances are so fresh and sweet that despite my familiarity with the plot, I found myself right in the moment with them, hoping against hope that they would reveal their feelings to each other.
Edwards’s steamy, sexy Ilona provides a wonderfully vivid contrast to Amalia. I found myself wishing Girard’s Kodaly had a more assertive presence; nevertheless, his singing and dancing were top-drawer.
Mancinelli-Cahill’s seamless direction expertly fueled the pace of the show. Although I found the first act a bit too long, I think this is an inherent flaw of the script. Brian Prather has designed an ingenious set, and the actors whisk the set pieces on- and offstage in the blink of an eye. Evan Prizant’s costumes are beautiful and period-authentic (although I did wonder at one point why Amalia was wearing a short-sleeved cotton dress during a Hungarian winter, but she looked fabulous in any case).
Freddy Ramirez’s choreography was just splendid, and the nimble, elegant cast did him proud. The musical direction by Josh D. Smith was downright charming. Lighting, designed by Jamie Roderick, and sound, designed by Rider Q. Stanton, were as close to perfect as I can imagine.
She Loves Me is a much-needed restorative for these stressful times, and Capital Repertory Theatre’s production does a lovely job of reminding us of the purpose of joy, especially appropriate during this holiday season, don’t you think?
She Loves Me, book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, based on a play by Miklos Laszlo, directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, runs November 24-December 24, 2017 at Capital Repertory Theatre. Choreography by Freddy Ramirez. musical direction by Josh D. Smith, set design by Brian Prather, costume design byEvan Prizant, lighting design by Jamie Roderick, sound design by Rider Q. Stanton, wig design by Michael Dunn.
CAST: Michael McCorry Rose as Georg Nowack; Julia Burrows as Amalia Balash; Kevin McGuire as Mr. Maraczek; David Girard as Steven Kodaly; Tracy Jai Edwards as Ilona Ritter; Jimmy Bain as Arpad; and Marc de la Concha as Ladislav Sipos
Ensemble (in order of appearance): Matthew Tenorio, Joshua DeMarco, Adam B. Shapiro, Lisa Franklin, Christina Carlucci, Josh Kohane, Jalissa Watson, Caroline Whelehan
Orchestra: Keyboard 1: Josh D. Smith; Keyboard 2 and Accordian: Brent Mauldin; Woodwinds: Rick Hambright; Violin: Josh Rodriguez or Jessica Bellflower
Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St, Albany, NY 12207. For tickets call 518-445-7469 or online at capitalrep.org.