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”?

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