Gretna Theatre presents ‘She Loves Me’

By on July 18, 2018

He loves me. He loves me not.

Those are two sentences often posed in the form of questions by lovers for many years. The story of love’s unknowns is a familiar one and it takes center stage in “She Loves Me,” the 1964 Tony-nominated best musical, Broadway hit, and revival success now showing at Gretna Theatre.

At the time of its premiere on Broadway, “She Loves Me” was the third incarnation (or adaptation) of the 1937 play “Parfumerie” written by Hungarian playwright Miklós László. As a point of theatre history, László was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1944 after emigrating from Hungary at the outset of World War II.

“Parfumerie” was László’s greatest success, but the writer continued to work under contract by MGM until his death in 1973. The storyline from “Parfumerie” became the basis for three films: “The Shop Around the Corner,” starring James Stewart; “In the Good Old Summertime,” a musical showcase for Judy Garland (post “Wizard of Oz”), and the 1998 romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail” starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. This story has legs; it is no surprise its two-week run in Mount Gretna is the musical climax of the open-air theatre’s 2018 run of shows.*

Set in Budapest, Hungary in 1934, “She Loves Me” opens outside of Maraczek’s perfumery and it’s a beautiful day as the shop workers assemble out front, waiting for their boss, Mr. Maraczek (Timothy Shew), to arrive. Uninspired salesman Ladislav Sipos (Andrew Zahn) is reading the paper and he is soon joined by the young Arpad Laszlo (Josh Lerner), who arrives by bicycle eager and enthusiastic. Next to enter the scene is the sultry cashier, Ilona Ritter (Ellie Mooney), who may be wearing the same dress as the day (and night) before. She is followed closely by Steven Kodaly, (Andy Kindig), a slick and slightly sleazy salesclerk who definitely has his eye (and maybe more) on Ilona.

Eventually, theatregoers meet Georg Nowack (William Connell), the leading man who is subtle and intelligent; he suggests the crew all take the day off and have a picnic until Mr. Maraczek arrives. Inside the perfumery it is business as usual until Amalia Balash (Hanley Smith) enters looking for a job. She immediately has the opportunity to display her sales skill and quickly lands a job.

Time passes and the seasons change. We learn both Georg and Amalia have been penning letters of love to a secret suitor, and as the holidays approach they prepare to meet their unseen sweethearts. Amelia chooses a romantic café to meet her pen pal who turns out to be…Georg, even though the two cannot stand each other in person. Everyone in the audience saw this coming!

At the end of Act I there is suicide, betrayal, lust, and misunderstanding. It is up to Georg to try and piece the world back together and make sense of his own feelings.

Director Thomas Cotè displays his ability to have a show run as if without effort as a stellar cast of actors transports the audience deep into the scenes. Each actor is cast perfectly for their character. Lerner is perfectly cute while playing the comic relief. Mooney brings a certain level of subtle panache to her character, infusing the city girl with street smarts while not losing her innocence. Kindig is curiously creepy, but not enough to be repulsive making his character’s relationships understandable — seedy, but believable.

Shew is a hidden gem** of talent hidden in the shade of the Gretna trees; he is not fully realized until the end of Act I when his character faces a lifechanging decision. As for the shows leads, Connell builds his character to a seasoned crescendo making his plight more real as time and the show passes while Smith is a bundle of joyous energy from the start, who takes every opportunity to showcase her beautiful voice.

Scott Williams is in charge of music and vocal direction for a show incorporating more than 20 songs, including the show’s most recognizable numbers “Vanilla Ice Cream,” “She Loves Me,” and “Will He Like Me?” These songs have become part of the musical theatre canon over the years and Gretna Theatre’s production of “She Loves Me” is the perfect example why.

The actors put the finished product on the stage, but there is usually more to a show than what the audience gets to see during a given performance. Throughout the run of the 2018 theatre season at Gretna, I have come to notice and appreciate one small bit of detail the theatre excels in; it may seem minute and inconsequential, but sometimes it is the smallest things which add up to a great performance. I’m talking about scene changes and flow of characters and props on and off the stage — especially a small stage often packed with props and bounding with energy. Unsure of who to congratulate for seamless transitions throughout the season I will recognize technical director Jordan Bohl, production manager Steve Cargile, and Erin Edelstein and Rachel Gerrity who are tasked with stage management of “She Loves Me.”

If you are a fan of classic, iconic musical theatre “She Loves Me” is a must-see show. As a writer I appreciate the delivery and design of the plot and as a theatre fan I enjoy the satisfaction provided by a well-rounded show masterfully and professionally presented.

Gretna Theatre’s production of the Broadway classic “She Loves Me” runs until July 21 with performances Wednesday through Saturday. Tickets can be purchased at gretnatheatre.org.

*Gretna Theatre finishes its 2018 season in August with Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” and “An Evening with Groucho,” a one-man show featuring award-winning actor/director/playwright Frank Ferrante.

**This is Shew’s third performance at Gretna and he arrives via Broadway where he has 11 shows under his belt including a 2,200-performance stint as the third actor to portray Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables.”

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

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