WEST VALLEY CITY — I love romantic comedies. To me there is nothing quite so comforting than (re)watching my favorite rom-coms, stopping and rewinding scenes over and over. True, I enjoy other genres of film and am a lover of the stage, but well-worm romantic comedies—While You Were Sleeping, Sweet Home Alabama, The Proposal—draw me in with great characters and humor, then hook me with the sweet, heartwarming, and yes, often sappy romance. Thanks to Hale Centre Theatre, I have discovered a new gem to add to my rom-com collection, a stage musical I wish I could watch on repeat—the ever-entertaining She Loves Me.
Set in Budapest, Hungary in the 1930’s, She Loves Me is a musical with book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, based on the play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo. Rom-com fans like myself will recognize the basic plot from the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail, a movie also based on Laszlo’s play. In She Loves Me, Georg and Amalia both work at the same shop, Maraczek’s Perfumery. From the instant they meet, they are bitter enemies—with a constant flow of bickering and one-upping whenever they are together. Secretly, both Georg and Amalia have been writing to an anonymous “dear friend”—someone they have never met, yet over the course of many letters have fallen in love with. Of course, unbeknownst to Georg and Amalia, they are each other’s pen pals. Eventually they both find out and have their fairytale ending, but the journey to get there is filled with humorous bumps, delightfully awkward situations, and endearing moments that make the “happily ever after” that much sweeter.
Of course, there are more characters in She Loves Me than just Georg and Amalia, and thanks to the guidance of Director Dave Tinney, the small thirteen-member cast work with each other flawlessly. From the well-placed staging to the consistently perfect comedic timing, the cohesiveness of the cast was evidence of Tinney’s adept hand. Further, Tinney actually choreographed the musical as well. Though the show does not have an excessive amount of formalized dancing, the movement during the musical numbers contributed to the overall humor and entertainment in the musical.
My favorite musical number was the title piece, “She Loves Me,” performed by the charismatic Derek Smith as Georg Nowack. In this number, Georg is beyond giddy at discovering that the woman he has been writing is also the woman he loves—Amalia. Smith’s singing is powerful throughout the show, but in this piece in particular, Smith allows the excitement and energy of his character to take over completely. The result is an infectious scene that invites the audience to emotionally experience with Georg the giddy glory of falling in love. Tinney’s choreography in this song is delightful, as Smith bounces around the stage, twirling, jumping, doing various pieces of dance moves—even laying on the floor and spinning in a circle at one point. This song more than any other moment in the production was the one that I honestly wished I could re-watch over and over again. It was just so fun and an absolute pleasure to be a part of as an audience member.
Playing Amalia, the love interest opposite Georg, Amy Shreeve Keeler was quirky, bright, and engaging. My second favorite song of the night, “Vanilla Ice Cream,” was Keeler’s big shining moment, thanks to her impeccable comedic timing and extensive vocal range. Keeler was able to create in Amalia a character who was a bit geeky, which was likeable and charming. Keeler’s Amalia and Smith’s Georg also had amazing chemistry whenever they were together onstage—whether fighting or wooing—and any scene with the two of them together played out perfectly.
But the ensemble performances are what pushed She Loves Me from just another sappy love story to a great romantic comedy. The cast were talented and diverse, from flirty but hilarious bombshell Ilona (played by Megan Heaps) and almost-lovable, slime ball ladies’ man Steven Kodaly (David Kennard Martin), to the youthfully exuberant and ever-energetic Arpad (Harrison Young). The singing throughout was beautiful and strong, showcasing music director Anne Puzey’s prowess of finessing already talented singers into an impressive musical ensemble. My favorite musical and acting moments included Heaps’s humorous performance of “A Trip to the Library,” Young’s ecstatic and hopeful “Try Me,” and my favorite ensemble piece of the night: the witty “Twelve Days to Christmas,” during which the countdown to Christmas shortens and the panic arises as reflected in the tempo, dancing, and singing.
The costume design (by Amanda Reiser and Peggy Willis) was gorgeously appropriate to the 1930’s, with men in smart suits and women in dresses of varying degrees of formality depending on the character and setting, with furs, hats, gloves, jewelry, and other fun and period accessories adding to the authenticity. The set (designed by Kacey Udy) itself was a wonder, including a large oval selling counter lifted in and out of the stage by use of the fly system. Simple set pieces created the scenes otherwise—each perfectly chosen to create the proper atmosphere, from tufted elegant chairs at the perfumery to the homey furnishings that made up Amalia’s living room.
I loved this musical, though my one complaint is that it ended all too abruptly and left me wanting more. I loved getting tangled up in the humor and romance of this musical rom-com, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a show that will uplift, entertain, and emotionally engage them for the better. Even my husband enjoyed the show, though he loved it for the humor and the performances more than for the love story (or so he says). Whatever your tolerance for romance, give HCT’s She Loves Me a try. You won’t regret it.
[gss-contentbox]She Loves Me plays at Hale Centre Theatre (3333 South Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City) nightly (except Sundays) at 7:30 PM, with matinees on various days at 9 AM, 12:30 PM, and 4 PM through September 27. Tickets are $16-32. For more information, visit www.hct.org.[/box]