Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Love She Loves Me

She Loves Me - Huntington Boston University Theatre - Boston, MA - Moves to the Williamstown Theatre Festival on June 27th 2008.
Book by Joe Masteroff, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Music by Jerry Bock, Based on the Play by Miklos Laszlo, Directed by Nicholas Martin

People always assume I love all musicals but I don't always. In fact, when I look at the list of musicals I truly love against all the ones I've seen, it's actually a lower percentage than you would expect and I find I usually like the newer, more contemporary shows that are usually dark and/or witty (Spring Awakening, Cabaret, Chicago, Parade, Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Avenue Q, A Chorus Line, Company, The Who's Tommy).

She Loves Me is not modern on the surface. In fact, it's an old fashioned ode to love that is both romantic, sweet and yet cynically amusing and smart. I had never actually seen the musical but just from listening to the cast recording from the 1993 revival (with Boyd Gaines (Tony nominee this year for Gypsy) and Brad Kane (Aladdin)), I had already fallen in love with the show (based on an old Hungarian play Parfumerie that has spawned the movies The Little Shop Around the Corner and the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie You've Got Mail). A rare "old" style musical that I truly love.

So it was such a delight to finally see She Loves Me live on stage at the Huntington Theatre in Boston with a top notch cast that, while differed from the cast recording that was so ingrained in my head, was no less delightful in telling the stories of the storeclerks at a parfumerie in Hungary and their differing love lives, all as the lovable Georg fights with the new girl Amalia, even though they are secretly writing each other love letters in their private lives, not realizing who their real life counterparts really are.

It's a simple premise and it works, with some fantastic music by Bock and some witty lyrics by Harnick who infuses the romanticism with some much needed realism and cynicism that keeps the romantic musical from ever becoming too cloying.

Tony nominee Brooks Ashmanskas takes the lead as Georg, and proves he can be a leading man. While there are moments when he seems a bit more suited to The Ritz, he's so charming when he finally gets to sing "She Loves me" that I'm willing to look beyond stereotypes.

Kate Baldwin, who won me over in White Christmas, proves again that she's a true star that harkens back to the starlights of the golden classic days with a soaring voice that's both pure and fragile. She really should be a bigger star on Broadway.

The rest of the main ensemble is terrific with Jessica Stone as a PERFECT Ilona, the girl that gets too easily wooed by the wrong men, one being fellow clerk Steven Kodaly, played with perfect schmarmy perfect by Troy Britton Johnson (The Drowsy Chaperone).

Jeremy Beck is perfectly adorable as bicycle delivery boy Arpad Laszlo. I loved Brad Kane's boyish rendition from the previous Broadway revival but Beck's version, though different, still works up a fully charming performance.

Dick Latessa (below with Ashmanskas) made for a perfectly lovable grump as Mr. Maraczek and though he was a bit too grumpy at times, I realized it was all part of the act, since I never realized a plot twist from just listening to the show and that explained WHY Maraczek becomes unlikable midway through the show.

Though to be honest, the musical is so well written that I think it's hard to turn a BAD performance in it and to direct it poorly. If I have any quibbles about this production, it's that the negative space sets (when there's essentially no sets on stage and we are left with a blue backdrop) are a little plain/cheap looking, though I'm sure the smaller regional budget has something to do with that, and partly because it was overlit.

The other quibble is that I always imagined the opening number "Good Morning, Good Day" to be sung by the entire company and not just the main characters, but since I've never seen the previous productions, I'm not sure if that's written that way or if it was just a decision for this production. I just assumed it was the whole ensemble but that could have been my mistake, but I still think it would have been nice. Especially since the dance number "A Romantic Atmosphere" with the entire ensemble cast was a total hoot and it's always nice to hear the full vocal power of the ensemble especially when the music is so great already. Though special mention to Jason Babinsky (below) as the clumsy waiter who gets pulled into the "romantic" shenanigans.

She Loves Me runs in Boston only until this Sunday, June 15th but then moves to the Williamstown Theatre Festival on June 27th 2008 and runs until July 12th 2008.

She Loves Me - Huntington Boston University Theatre - Boston, MA - ****(4 out of 5)

UPDATE: They added clips (and more photos above) thanks to the Huntington Theatre Blog!

Here is Mr. Maraczek (Dick Latessa) singing "Days Gone By":

The cast singing "A Romantic Atmosphere":

Here's Brooks Ashmanskas singing "She Loves Me":


Laura said...

"She Loves Me" is one of my absolute favorites - so jealous you got to see Brooks Ashmanskas in it, too; he's amazing.

Esther said...

Great review, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it! This was my first time seeing "She Loves Me" or any of these actors on stage. I loved Brooks Ashmanskas, even though I'm guessing his take on Georg was a little more comic than usual. He was just so cuddly. I actually thought the bare stage worked well for his big number, "She Loves Me," and I thought his singing and dancing was great. Kate Baldwin - wow, what a voice! She was so poignant waiting in the cafe for her pen pal, and her acting was terrific in "Vanilla Ice Cream." I loved Jeremy Beck, too, he was a delight to watch. I thought "Twelve Days to Christmas" was done very well. You really got a sense of the frantic activity in the shop.