SHE LOVES MEBook by Joe Masteroff
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by – Jenny Tucker
Music Director – Kelly Schaaf
Choreographer – Amy Cave
Set Designer – Jenny Tucker
Costumer Designer – Sarah Lacy
Light/Sound Designer – Branson White
Props Designer – Elaine Plybon
Stage Manager – Elaine Plybon
D. Aaron Bryant – Arpad
Tom McWhorter – Maraczek
Evan Faris – Ladislov Sipos
Kathryn Taylor Rose – Ilona Ritter
Evan Ramos – Georg Nowack
George Phillips – Steven Kodaly
Madison Williams – Amalia Balash
Byron Holder – Waiter
David Plybon – Keller/Ensemble
Cameron Fox – Busboy
Andrew Beckham, Kay Brandt, Melissa Feldman, Frances Hackley, Danna Rushing, Haley White – Ensemble
Reviewed Performance: 9/30/2018
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The plot revolves around Budapest shop employees Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash who, despite being consistently at odds with each other at work, are unaware that each is the other's secret pen-pal, met through a lonely-hearts club. If you think you recognize the plot, you may be familiar with some of the other play’s incarnations: the 1940 James Stewart film, The Shop Around the Corner, or perhaps the 1949 Judy Garland musical version, called In the Good Old Summertime. You could also be thinking it sounds an awful lot like the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film, You've Got Mail. And you’d be right, as Parfumerie was the source material for them all.
She Loves Me is the epitome of the classic musical where boy meets girl, boy and girl have to overcome various obstacles before they’ll admit their love, and all ends up happily. This is not to say it’s boring or trite. While the audience knows these two are going to end up together at the end, the journey is definitely worth it.
We first meet the personnel at Maraczek’s Parfumerie as they arrive for work on a typical day. Arpad, a young delivery boy who dreams of becoming a clerk in the shop, is portrayed by D. Aaron Bryant. Mr. Bryant has an animated face and wonderful singing voice, and he brings a refreshingly youthful energy to the role. His enthusiasm is fun to watch. Evan Faris plays long-time shop employee Ladislov Sipos with just the right amount of cynicism, without being too crusty. He often acts as a kind of a father figure to the other employees and he is warm and genuine in his relationships with them all. Tom McWhorter is dignified and regal as the shop owner Maraczek. If you didn’t know who the boss was, his persona would give it away instantly. As the men who aren’t attached to any of the women in the show, these three are a formidable group.
The love starved Ilona Ritter is beautifully handled by Kathryn Taylor Rose. Ms. Rose has a lovely voice and solid acting chops, and it doesn’t hurt that she looks fabulous in Sarah Lacy’s period costume designs. She has the unenviable task of covering just about every emotion out there during the course of the show, and her facial expressions and body language are spot on, especially when dealing with the philandering Steven Kodaly, played by George Phillips. Mr. Phillips just oozes smarmy charm, and his overly flirtatious manner is just right for the role. He also has an excellent singing voice and moves very well in the musical numbers. He and Ms. Rose have amazing chemistry, but they’re more fun to watch once they’re apart than when they’re together.
Evan Ramos portrays Georg Nowack with a slightly nerdy earnestness that makes us root for him instantly. His wide eyes and easy smile make one wonder why he hasn’t been snatched up by some pretty young thing, especially as he moons over the letters from his “dear friend.” Madison Williams is that “dear friend,” otherwise known as Amalia Balash. While the two start off on the wrong foot, their chemistry is apparent from the moment Ms. Williams hits the stage. Her sincerity and sweetness are irresistible, and we’re again scratching our heads as to how some nice young man hasn’t swept her off her feet. And her beautiful, lilting soprano voice just makes her even more adorable! Mr. Ramos’ immediate turnaround once he realizes his enemy from work is “dear friend” is a study in love and humility, and she, too, softens as quickly as her ice cream melts. Watching their budding romance, you have no choice but to smile.
Byron Holder gets to steal his big scene as the sardonic Waiter, aided by Cameron Fox as the Busboy. This is one of the most fun moments of the show. The ensemble also gets to shine, highlighting Amy Cave’s choreography. Mr. Fox plays the clumsy oaf (who happens to be able to dance) with gusto, and Mr. Holder brings it up a notch every time he enters the room or opens his mouth. What a perfect role for him!
A small but mighty ensemble makes up all of the customers at the shop and at the restaurant, and they are a solid group. David Plybon (who also plays the private investigator Keller in a short scene), Andrew Beckham, Kay Brandt, Melissa Feldman, Frances Hackley, Danna Rushing, and Haley White work well together to make the stage seem full of people. They also make the most of each of their numbers under Kelly Schaaf’s musical direction, and the tight harmonies are flawless. In fact, all of the musical numbers - solos to big production numbers - were fabulous. Occasionally the band was a tad too loud, but that was my only complaint about the music.
Under the solid direction of Jenny Tucker, She Loves Me really is a must-see. I will say that I was completely shocked to read in her director’s notes that she was a first-time director. And even more shocked that she also designed the remarkable set!
And remarkable, it is! The outside of the parfumerie unfolds to reveal the inside of the shop, and the other locations fit in snugly throughout. It really is a stunning set, making the small stage seem much larger even though there couldn’t have been much room backstage! Elaine Plybon’s props design helped create the 1930s atmosphere, complete with various perfume bottles, lotion jars, musical cigarette boxes.
Overall Branson White’s lighting design worked well to establish the moods required for such an intricate story. Unfortunately, the performance I attended had some weird light cue issues at the very end of the show, which distracted from the inevitable, romantic happy ending, but I’m sure those will be fixed in subsequent performances. Mr. White’s sound design (including, I assume, the wireless mics), was nicely handled.
The only other issue that detracted from making She Loves Me completely enjoyable was Mr. Phillips’ hair. From the front, he looked fine (and quite dashing), but he apparently has long hair that he tried unsuccessfully to pin up. Unfortunately it didn’t stay past the first scene so he was stuck with a kind of half pony-tail for the rest of the show. I was hoping he would have fixed it at intermission at least, but it wasn’t to be, and it was very distracting.
Runway Theatre’s She Loves Me is truly a delight. The plot is obviously good enough to have been borrowed for various other works, and the songs just add to the fun. Even more importantly, everyone on that stage is super talented and giving it their all, resulting in a most enjoyable evening at the theatre. Don’t miss it!
215 N. Dooley St.
Grapevine, TX 76051
Runs through October 21
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 3:00 pm
Tickets are $22-25
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.runwaytheatre.com or call the box office at 817-488-4842.