"Christmas Carol" Encore: The Solo of Wit

Encore!: Neil McGarry's as Charles Dickens in "A Christmas Carol"

The following is a republishing of a previous review of this show, with encore performances Dec.19-21 at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, with the entire original cast intact.....

Every Christmas season, as predictable as the swallows’ spring return to Capistrano, there arrive at one’s theatrical doorstep (or one’s door knocker) an abundance of productions of Charles Dickens’ beloved “A Christmas Carol”, and this year is no exception. Among the more typical megacast and musical versions, however, there was one exception, that of a fledgling local troupe. While this critic reads the original novella every Christmas, the prospect of attending yet another staged version was daunting, and had prompted in past reviews the headline “Three Ghosts Walked into a Bar…”

Until this version. This is not your grandmother’s “Christmas Carol”, but she surely would have loved it. The striking difference that makes this production stand out from all the others is that all the roles, with one brief exception, are filled by one actor, Neil McGarry in a demanding, astounding, and charming performance. This “Carol” is worth singing about, for it supplies a crucial voice most other versions miss, namely that of Dickens himself. From the moment McGarry arrives onstage literally carrying the baggage of Scrooge’s life, we’re struck by the incomparably wise and witty language of the author. Where other productions tend to stick to the well-known words of various characters, this one depends much more on the literate beauty and deviously comic viewpoints one appreciated only on the page, until now. Such asides as having “often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now”, or “awaking in the middle of a prodigious tough snore” are hilarious examples. The star of this version is none other than Dickens himself, in the person of the narrator, and in that role McGarry truly shines.

McGarry is not your typical Scrooge, given his youth and good looks, but he manages to convince, with intricate gestures, fluid movement and seemingly infinite facial expressions, not only in the pivotal role of the old miser but in all the supporting roles save one, with wondrous turns as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, the long-suffering Bob Cratchit, and especially the small role of the boy sent to buy the prize turkey. Wisely, avoiding what could have been unintentionally funny, only the love of his young life, Belle, is portrayed by another actor, by an offstage voice. With few props (a scarf that doubles as a blindfold, a coat rack that doubles as a Christmas tree, street lamps and a trunk), and an almost bare stage, stripped to its bare essentials, the story has never been so alive and real. To see and hear McGarry exclaim “Oh, there never was such a goose!” is absolutely brilliant. He runs the gamut of emotions from Scrooge’s first horror at the vision of Marley’s face to the uniquely believable transformation at the end. Not only is this performance a triumph of memorization, it’s the most energetic effort seen on any stage thus far this season; at one point, at the Fezziwigs’ ball, one could have sworn there were ten lords a-leaping.

Mention should be made that this is a production unafraid to reference the religious meaning of the season, with Dickens’ quote “and he took a child and set him in the midst of them” and “he (Scrooge) went to church” near the end of the storytelling. As Scrooge finally puts it, “I am not the man I was”, and neither are we when reminded of the true meaning of Christmas, especially for those who believe, but even for those who do not. This is “A Christmas Carol” for the ages, and for theatergoers of all ages as well. Anyone who misses this production, to quote Dickens himself, “should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart”. If you haven’t ordered tickets yet, what the dickens are you waiting for?


New Rep's "La Mancha": To Reach the Impossible Note

The Cast of "Man of La Mancha"
(photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

As is the case with theatergoers who were fortunate enough to attend productions of the 1959 “musical play” that was Man of La Mancha on Broadway, or one or more of its four New York revivals in 1972, 1977, 1992, or 2002, this show remains a beloved memory. Based on the 1965 novel Don Quixote (written between 1605 and 1615) as well as other works by Miguel de Cervantes, it was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning five (including Best Musical). It had first seen the light of day as a non-musical teleplay by Dale Wasserman in 1959, later adapted by him for the musical stage (at Goodspeed Opera House, also the original home of Annie in 1976), with Music by Mitch Leigh and Lyrics by Joe Darion. It was Wasserman's ingenious move to portray the eccentric title character in a play-within-a-play, a tribute to the historical reality that Cervantes himself, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was not primarily a poet but first and foremost a playwright and actor on the road with his own little troupe. This “musical play” reflected the idealistic hopes of the time, becoming known primarily for its best song, The Quest , also known as The Impossible Dream (especially among Red Sox fans in 1967). It was also acknowledged as providing one of the rare Broadway musical male lead roles, along with the likes of Tevye and Harold Hill. It survived its being made into an almost completely forgettable film in 1972 starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren, neither of whom could carry a tune in the proverbial bucket (though only O'Toole was dubbed). The question for modern audiences is this: does it still speak to them as it celebrates idealism and hope, in a more cynical age?

Alas, the question remains unanswered, at least with this production. For reasons known only to Director Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, the setting has been arbitrarily altered to Spain in the era of Franco (the 1960's) while still featuring a trial by the Spanish Inquisition (1478, last time one checked). One who had never seen a production of this show could be forgiven for not grasping the logic of that wrong-headed decision, one that mirrors the auteur approach all too common these days among operatic directors who thoroughly ignore a librettist's original intent. Unfortunately there were some other crucial missteps as well, from the distracting and ugly steampunk-like set, to the haphazard lighting that left one searching for which actor was speaking or singing countless times, to the equally unfocused movement direction, the weirdly unsettling sound and musical effects, the drab (even for prisoners) costumes and bizarre use of non-period instruments like an accordian and ukulele. Its most egregious mistaken choice was casting otherwise excellent actors in singing roles that were out of their comfort zones. It also ignored the explicit instructions by the librettist that Cervantes appear to grow old and gaunt (applying makeup and beard as he assumes the title role), and that his comic sidekick be “chubby” (not due to a prosthetic appliance). And then there is Wasserman's note that “the play is performed without intermission”, which was also ignored, leading to the breaking of tension as the play progressed. So many wrong-headed decisions were indicative that the creative team failed to grasp and/or convey the fundamental message of the piece.

One exception was the choice of Austrian opera diva Ute Gfrerer as Aldonza, the whore who evolves into Dulcenea, the “noble lady” chosen by the knight-errant Don Quixote, who is his sole convert in the end. Gfrerer was solidly at home in her acting and singing of the role (though she looked far too well-coiffed for the character), whose famous background in interpreting Kurt Weill really showed, a reminder of the power the play should possess.

Sadly, if one is looking for meaning in life and the courage to persevere with resilience against a tyrannical administration, one won't find either here in this missed opportunity.


Lyric's "Hold These Truths": It Can't Happen Here

Michael Hisamoto with Gary Thomas Ng & Samantha Richert
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

Hold These Truths by Jeanne Sekata is a historical play about the internment of U.S. Citizens of Japanese descent in their own country during World War II; obviously, this was a national disgrace which could never again happen here.

As the current production by Lyric Stage Company, this work stars Michael Hisamoto (a Japanese-born and Singapore-raised actor) as Gordon Hirabayashi (of Japanese ancestry and Quaker upbringing). It's the story of his defiance and patriotism in resisting internment in camps. It also features three kurogos (essentiallty stage hands, sometimes “invisible” manipulators and dancers) in the kabuki and noh theatrical traditions, played by Khloe Alice lin, Gary Thomas Ng and Samantha Richert. Told by means of flashbacks, the story utilizes Hisamoto in numerous roles, from his parents and college friends to military leaders, Supreme Court justices, lawyers, prison bosses, and even Hopi native Americans. As a Quaker, he believed that “God is in each heart, not in a church”. His fifty years of effort resulted in the exposure of the supposed need to detain “non-alien U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry” for reasons of “national security”, to be ultimately the aftermath of hysteria and racism. This was in part due to the unearthing of letters, memos and military documents by legal historian Peter Irons. In this spare and stark one-hundred-minute intermissionless work, a powerful lesson ought to be apparent. Director Benny Sato Ambush likens this work to a one-person show “with a cast of thousands”, since the character of Hirabayashi is clearly representative of the huge number of people affected by their unconscionable mistreatment. He further notes that nativism and xenophobia (and consequent immigration laws) rear their ugly heads cyclically. And as the playwright herself puts it, “rather than be defeated by the America that was, (Hirabayashi) felt that he had to say a passionate “yes” to the America that was still to come”. As the powers that be finally had to admit, “ancestry is not a crime”.

Michael Hisamoto with Samantha Richert, Khloe Alice Lin & Gary Thomas Ng
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

As Hirabayashi quotes his father: “the nail that's sticking out is the one that gets hit”. Toward the end of the play, Hirabayashi's earlier quote is expanded upon: “the nail that's sticking out is the one that gets hit.....unless the hammer is smaller than the nail”. Surprisingly funny at times, nearly always profound and of course resonant, the play has great power. Its force is dependent on the skill of Hisamoto, and he commands the stage, first with his wide-eyed innocence, then with growing disenchantment, finally with righteous anger. The production is choreographed by Jubilith Moore, with Scenic Design (effectively using typical Japanese screens) by Shelley Barish, simple Costume Design by Tobi Renaldi, critical Lighting Design by Karen Perlow, and fine Sound Design and Music Composition by Arshan Gailus and Projection Design by Johnathan Carr.

As Hirabayashi noted, “we are here farther still from where we ought to be”. Appropriately, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, unfortunately, a posthumous recognition, given as it was just months after his death. And, of course, as noted above, in our more enlightened times, it can't happen again here. Oh, wait.....

You would do well to revisit this ever more timely era, to be presented through December 31st.

"The Color Purple": Pushing da Button

Adrianna Hicks, N'Jameh Camara & Cast in "The Color Purple"
(photo: National Tour)

The Color Purple is a guaranteed audience pleaser. The original Broadway version earned eleven Tony Award nominations, (though ultimately winning only one, for its lead performer, LaChanze), running over nine hundred performances, in large part due to the famously generous publicity it received from one of its producers, Oprah Winfrey, on her television talk show. Based on the popular 1982 Pulitzer-winning epistolary novel by Alice Walker, it was first adapted as a film in 1985, which was in turn nominated for eleven Academy Awards (including one for Ms. Winfrey in the supporting actress category), but won none. These statistics may not be indicative of theatrical or cinematic politics as much as they are of the pitfalls involved in adapting such a sweeping literary work to another medium, especially when that source material is as plot heavy and full of characters as Ms. Walker’s is. Thus the first Broadway musical version suffered from a bloated book by Marsha Norman. With some two dozen songs with Music and Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, it was a challenge even for those familiar with the novel and/or its film adaptation. For those who may be unfamiliar with either, following the story was daunting to say the least. Enter British wunderkind John Doyle, who as Director, Set Designer and Musical Stager, made this touring trimmed-down version, happily, a vast improvement. Totally reconceived, it's tighter, tauter and terrific. And a lot raunchier; Doyle, in the words of one of the songs from the score, really knows how to “push da button”. He has also made its feminist message stronger now.

Adrianna Hicks & Cast of "Color Purple"
(photo: National Tour)

As anyone who is familiar with the original saga knows, the plot covers the years 1909 to 1949, centering on the evolution of Celie (Adrianna Hicks), who is fourteen and pregnant for the second time by her father. In the course of the story, both of her children are taken away from her, as is her beloved sister Nettie (N'Jameh Camara), with whom she loses contact for some four decades. Why she loses this contact, and how she progresses from a quietly passive teenager to an assertive and successful entrepreneur, the audience will discover, as she encounters numerous characters along the way, from her “husband” Mister (a menacing Gavin Gregory) and his son Harpo (ladies' man J. Daughtry) to Harpo’s wife Sofia (the wonderful Carrie Compere). Well, that’s just a few of them. All of them, to varying degrees, become a part of Celie’s story, not least the sultry singer Shug Avery (marvelous Carla R. Stewart), Mister’s long-time lover, with whom Celie falls in love, and nurses back to health. The men are pretty much reduced to sexual predators, and the women often to mere sexual objects, a timely topic indeed. Never has the phrase “less is more” been truer than it surely is here, where more had been less. With so many fates to follow and musical numbers to digest in the original Broadway version, it’s no wonder that this slimmer production is now as moving as it is, by comparison.

This is primarily due to Doyle’s direction and casting acumen. As noted, it’s a huge cast, with so many great performances that one hardly knows where to begin. Surely, though, it should begin with the serendipitous choice of Hicks, whose acting and singing skills are lovely indeed. Add to her pivotal role the compelling work by the sympathetic Camara, the intimidating Gregory, the sexy and knowing Stewart...well, the whole lot of them, in fact. With expert Musical Direction by Darryl Archibald, the stage is alive with fabulous life. The Scenic Design by Doyle and Lighting Design by Jane Cox enhance differing moods, and the Costume Design by Ann Hould-Ward and the Sound Design by Dan Moses Schreier add crucial elements. The craft on stage and behind it is strikingly impressive. (Though they tended to use the many chairs a few times too often in the staging).

Lest one’s praise, and prose, be too purple, there are some problems that remain, despite the efforts of all involved in this version. There is the score, which, with some exceptions that are showstoppers, (the title song, Shug’s down and dirty “Push Da Button”, Celie’s anthem “I’m Here” and a ballad or two) is unmemorable, though the songs do serve the plot. There is also the libretto, which still suffers from some sudden inexplicable transformations, not the least being the “redemption” of Mister at the finale. There are the issues of rape, incest, misogyny, servitude, wife-beating, and lesbianism (in a time when it was unspoken and unsung), that are not the typical expectations for musical theatergoers. The fact that this production is so involving, inspiring and magical is testimony to all of the professionals involved. Hicks is a revelation in the central role, and the rest of the cast is outstanding. Of note is the fact that this reviewer unintentionally neglected to mention that this is a love story about African Americans, probably because of its universal application to the oppression of all women.
If you missed it in Boston, it's coming December 5th to 10th to the Bushnell Theater in Hartford. As Shug Avery suggests, the Lord becomes angry when one walks by the color purple in a field without even noticing it. To avoid incurring the wrath of the theatre gods, by all means don’t overlook this one.


Gold Dust Orphans' "Whatever...": Marvel-ous

Ryan Landry & Larry Coen in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jesus?"
(photo: Michael von Redlich)

This is the very best Gold Dust Orphans show this critic has ever seen!

Of course, it's the only one, which must mean that one simply has to get out more often, or at least admit the truth up front, that one is a virgin, at least as far as the wacky company known as the Gold Dust Orphans is concerned (and they've been around since 1995, so how else can that be explained?). Given the company's popularity, expectations were high, and they were not disappointed. Somewhere between a romp and a hoot, this production actually exceeds mere success; it's an enlightening delight.

It goes by the name of Whatever Happened to Baby Jesus?, A Christmas Mystery, an obvious play on the title of a certain film (and a certain Marvel-ous Event). As always, it stems from the mind and groin of Ryan Landry, who takes on the role of Blanche Hudson, sister to Formerly Famous Child Star Baby Jane (Larry Coen, who also directs the show). Each of these world-wise actors set a high standard for the rest of the cast, as well as the creative team behind the scenes. That would include Joe Parks (Michael Underhill) and Mary Marvel (Taryn Lane); that would be (wink, nod) Joseph and Mary, but that's about as mildly blasphemous as the production ever gets. It's much more interested in skewering the news of the day, from political targets to the latest scandals, all, as the saying goes, fang firmly in cheek. There are more plot threads than a colonial quilt, brewing over from the manic mind of playwright Landry, but that's just fine, as the medium here is the true message, which is to say the well-rehearsed ensemble that includes characters like Abigail Marvel (Vanessa Calantropo), Yurick van der Beek (Jack Ferdman), Dr. Bubbles Goldberg (Kiki Samko) and Bea Smirch (the beloved trouper Penny Champayne), as well as Orville Smirch (the remarkably buttocked Sam Thornhill Geoghegan). There's not a clinker in this cast, which would apply to the rest of the characters, from Elvira/Pansy (Qya Cristal), to the Preacher/Butterfly (Matt Kyle) and the Preacher's Wife/Vera (Meghan Edge), to Marge (Sarah Jones), Phil (Tim Lawton) and Professor Davis (William York).

The Ensemble in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jesus?'
(photo: Michael von Redlich)

The cumulative effect of all this performing talent results in a lot of surprisingly professional singing and dancing, with choreography by Kyle, Edge and Cristal. Attention must be paid to the complicated Music Direction by Lawton, hilariously creative and stunning Costumes by House of Martino, intricate Lighting by Michael Clark Wonson and Video by Ari Herzig, with what seemed like hundreds of clever Scenics by Matthew Lazure, as well as Sound by Landry himself. This did feel like a take-off on another popular film, Summer Stock (based on the still-producing Priscilla Beach Theatre in nearby Plymouth).

This show, as has been stated elsewhere, will keep you on your toes, at the edge of your seat, and on the cusp of a cliché! But never fear, Landry obviously has everything well in hand. It's the perfect antidote to the nightly national news, and a lot more entertaining.

The company's venue is downstairs at Machine at 1254 Boylston Street, to December 23rd. But seriously, folks, we could all use a show's-worth of sight gags and sound bites, some even painful (“like Yankee Magazine, she has a lot of issues”), and not a few a tad racy for this review, but it's all in good pun.


Odyssey's "Trial at Rouen": Keeping Up with the Joans

Heather Buck in "The Trial at Rouen"
(photo: Kathy Wittman)

More than a half century ago, the televised series known as NBC Opera Theatre, (which, in its heyday, produced such works as Amahl and the Night Visitors) presented in 1956 a new opera,Trial at Rouen, composed by Pulitzer Prize winning Norman Dello Joio, to his own libretto. As part of their continuing discovery of lost or little-known music, Odyssey Opera and Boston Modern Orchestra Project, both under the direction of Gil Rose, recently performed this piece at Jordan Hall; it had never before been performed on stage before a live audience, and was thus a world premiere of sorts. It was part of an evening that included the composer's 1951 The Triumph of St. Joan Symphony. These were in turn a part of the company's presentation of five musical depictions of the life and times of Joan of Arc. As the composer put it, his efforts portrayed the “ageless conflict between the individual of excessive imagination and those who hold to the status quo”. So far we've had the opportunity to appreciate several variations on the life and death of Joan of Arc, now two of them in one night.

The symphonic work is in three movements, The Maid, The Warrior and The Saint, with music that illustrates Joan's growth from simple maiden (including a lovely duet featuring flute and oboe), to soldier (denoting assembling of forces, charging into battle and victorious joy), to saint (invoking Gregorian chant). First there was a very bucolic and pastoral depiction of the virginal maid, then a sudden unabashedly bellicose motif with an orchestral attack that the warrior saint would have loved, and finally an ethereal mood piece. It was an enjoyable “curtain raiser” for the evening, strikingly reminiscent of movie music along the lines of the great Hungarian film composer Miklos Rozsa (the 1959 Ben Hur, and close to a hundred other motion picture scores), that is to say, good listenable movie music.

The same, alas, could not be said for Dello Joio's operatic take on the tale. While it often made for enjoyable listening, at least on first hearing, it too frequently bordered on schlock; there are perhaps good reasons why musical works fade into obscurity. That said, it's hard to imagine a better performance of the work, from all the artists on stage, though it must be said that the composer's biggest error was to be his own librettist. The opera, written (and sung here) in English, is in two acts, together encompassing just an hour and a quarter, concerns the last days of Joan. In the Prelude, a Soldier (tenor Jeremy Ayres Fisher) encounters Father Julien (baritone Luke Scott), who is the confessor to the accused Joan (soprano Heather Buck), and they discuss her case. Later, in the ruined Rouen fortress, a group of Inquisitors chant (offstage) as Pierre Cauchon (baritone Stephen Powell), the English-leaning Bishop of Beauvais, speaks with Julien about the woman's dress which Joan declines to wear, a symbol of her defiance to the Inquisitors' demands that include renouncing her claim of hearing heavenly voices, their differing perspectives echoed in the music. There follows a lengthy scene in Joan's cell after her abusive Jailer (bass Ryan Stoll) leaves her with Julien, who urges her to don the dress and realize her sin is that of pride. But their mutual sympathy is short-lived with the return of the Jailer. When, at Julien's request, she is left alone, she speaks to the dress and renews her conviction not to wear it, as well as admitting her fear of the flames and wondering about her possible future, if any. At the trial itself, Cauchon warns “she is a greater menace than she knows”, followed by reactions from the people, then the inquisitors, and finally solos from Cauchon, Joan herself, and Julien. While she refuses to swear the truth on a copy of the Bible, the people beg her to submit, and the Inquisitors proclaim she is a heretic. Joan tells them to light the fire, and is ultimately led to the stake, singing of peace, which she seems to have found at last.

Both the symphony and opera were superbly conducted by Rose, with Chorus Master Mariah Wilson leading a group of two dozen plus a quintet of inquisitors. The opera was of interest, through composed and fluid, with prosody, matching of sung rhythms to the words, but in the end didn't sustain that initial interest, especially it what seemed an endless death scene (not an operatic novelty, to be sure), though movingly sung and acted by Buck at her best. All of the individual singers, as well as the chorus, were flawless; it was a pity that the text was often so pretentious (“I shall hold true to my beliefs though they tear me limb from limb”, or “Oh God, why have you abandoned me?”).

The cycle of five operas based on St. Joan and her times will continue on February 17th with a performance of Honegger's Jeanne D'Arc au Bucher at Sanders Theater in Cambridge, with a spring offering of the final work in the series, Verdi's Giovanna D'Arco. It will have been an estimable effort on the part of Odyssey Opera to demonstrate the diverse spectrum of music devoted over the years to this enigmatic figure, facilitating one's keeping up with the Joans.


Greater Boston Stage's "She Loves Me": Do Call Again

Jennifer Ellis in "She Loves Me"
(photo: Maggie Hall Photography)

As has been noted here before, as joyous as it is to fall in love, it's infinitely more wondrous to fall in love again, with the same musical theater piece, some fifty years later, and as the line in a reprised song says, “do call again”. In any heated discussion of what comprises the best musical ever created, Gypsy and Sweeney Todd each has its champions, but She Loves Me will always be regarded as a sentimental favorite of true theater buffs. It premiered on Broadway in 1963, and has been revived several times since. This latest version, from the Company Formerly Known as Stoneham Theater, now Greater Boston Stage Company, provides ample evidence for its deserved place in musical theater history. Its Book is by Joe Masteroff, based on the Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo, with a plot which will be familiar to film fans: 1940's The Shop around the Corner , 1949's Judy Garland flick In the Good Old Summertime, and 1998's You've Got Mail. With Music by Jerry Bock and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick (who would later collaborate on Fiddler on the Roof), it was this critic's second Broadway musical ever, and remains his personal favorite of all time, as it is the favorite of this production's Director and Choreograper and Associate Artistic Director, Ilyse Robbins. Rivaling her work in last season's Scottsboro Boys, her magic here is seamless, boasting more excellent choreography than most productions of this musical offer, danced and sung by a mostly impeccable cast (one actor, playing the part of a cad, needs to lessen the scenery-chewing a bit). It's a perfect piece in that it does what most musical theater works don't manage, which is to provide each with her or his solo number. Robbins must know this play well, with never a false move. And it should be noted, given its “12 Days to Christmas” number cleverly interspersed by Robbins with the more familiar “On the First Day of Christmas” et al, that this is the pluperfect holiday show.

Sam Simahk & Jennifer Ellis in "She Loves Me"
(photo: Maggie Hall Photography)
The story revolves around a parfumerie in1930's Budapest owned by Mr. Maraczek (Tom Gleadow), and his employees, the handsome but unmarried head clerk Georg Nowack (Sam Simahk), the ladies' man Steven Kodaly (Jared Troilo), the luminous Ilona (Aimee Doherty), the timid Sipos (Robert Saoud), and the youthful errand boy Arpad (Brendan Callahan). Into this melange arrives one Amalia Balash (Jennifer Ellis), desperate for a job. She is hired by Maraczek, but for her and Georg, it's loathe at first sight. Unbeknownst to either of them, they are secret pen pals in a lonely hearts club. They arrange by mail to meet in a discreet cafe led by a hysterical (in several senses) Headwaiter (Nick Sulfaro), but the plans go astray, as these things often do in the first act of musicals. After some complications along the way, they finally realize their ongoing connection. It's a very sweet tale involving music boxes, chocolates, and above all vanilla ice cream, which literally breaks the ice between our predestined lovers. If this is any indication of what other possibilities lie in our future, theatergoers should expect true wonders from Greater Boston Stage Company. This production, with Matthew Stern on the keyboard and as Music Director, shows off the creative talents of Scenic Designer Brynna Bloomfield, Costume Designer Gail Astrid Buckley, Lighting Designer Jeff Adelberg and Sound Designer John Stone. One negative aspect was the muffled overture due to the placement of the orchestra behind the set. It was also surprising, given Simahk's great voice, that one song was spoken rather than sung (perhaps due to the macarbre lyric “her left foot floating in an open brook”).

Tom Gleadow, Sam Simahk, Brendan Callahan, Aimee Doherty, Jennifer Ellis & Robert Saoud
in "She Loves Me"
(photo: Maggie Hall Photography)

Who could resist such a charming and heartwarming story, lushly romantic while not too heavy on the schlag? Ellis, following in the footsteps of the original Amalia (a then-little-known Barbara Cook) makes the role her own, and Simahk is her perfect match (he's been away too long from Boston stages, having been in the National Tour of The King and I). Add to this the wacky turns by Doherty (perhaps her best role yet), Gleadow and Saoud, and even Callahan in an often-underwhelming role, and you have a really embarrassing cornucopia of riches. How delicious to hear the letter-writing Amalia speak of how the views of Georg and her “so correspond”, Ilona of her book-loving suitor's “novel approach”, learning Arpad's last name is Laszlo (a tribute to the original playwright), and the heroine's paean to the ice cream the hero brought her.

This relatively unknown musical is no secret anymore. Until December 23rd , we can all scream we love She Loves Me. So bring on the vanilla ice cream, and “do call again, won't you”?