Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
University of Michigan-Flint’s Department of Theatre and Dance opened its season this weekend with an adorable and delightfully predictable love story. Not a generally well-known musical, She Loves Me was first produced in 1963 and grew out of the 1940 James Stewart-Margaret Sullavan film, The Shop Around the Corner. It also set the scene for the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan hit You’ve Got Mail in 1998. The endearing thing about this show, apart from its wonderful score and terrifically talented cast, is how relevant the tale remains even in this techie age.
Set in 1930’s Budapest, Maraczek’s Parfumerie is a purveyor of upscale perfumes, cosmetics and skin care and staffed by four sales clerks and one delivery boy. These five introduce themselves with “Good Morning, Good Day” as we meet Georg Nowack (Robert Anderson), Arpad Laszio (Britton Paige), Ladislav Sipos (Andy Eisengruber), Ilona Ritter (Farrell Tatum), and Steven Kodaly (Joshua Cornea).
Owner Mr. Maraczek (Connor Klee) soon arrives and the day begins with customers coming in and being ushered out in song by the whole staff with the corny but cute “Thank You, Madam”. A fixture in the town, we find the store has a rich history and most of these folks have been long employed there.
We must mention Lisa Borton’s incredible set design and rendering of this street that turns into a store. The revolving set is period perfect inside as the storefront spins. There is even a bit of a snowfall on Christmas Eve! And costumes by Shelby Newport are right out of your grandmother’s photo album but now in real cloth and color!
With love at the center of this story, we look first to Georg who is expecting another letter from his “special” pen pal and anticipating an actual meeting with the lady. He isn’t happy when Amalia Balash (Emily McCaleb) arrives asking for a job, and is even more distanced from her when she causes him to lose a sales bet with the proprietor.
We soon find out that Amalia also has a “special” pen pal and , well, you can guess where this is going. Feuding at work, at home these two write wonderful letters to each other and imagine life with their perfect “Special Friend”.
The whole troupe is vocally talented and varied in their delivery of music and characterizations. McCaleb has an incredible range from the coy salesmanship of “No More Candy” to the resounding “Vanilla Ice Cream”, and the spirit to deliver this comical yet needy character perfectly.
Speaking of needy, Georg is her perfect match, and Anderson carries it off with panache and humor. His vocals are nicely done especially his frenetic rendition of “Tonight at Eight”.
We should mention that Musical Director Frank E. Pitts uses prerecorded orchestrations in place of live music in this show. It does afford a full, rich sound and maintains a steady rhythm throughout.
Director Stephanie Dean’s troupe weaves together well even when strife rears its head and times get tough. Tatum’s Ilona is an intriguing character with a quirky personality. She and McCabe have a duet in which Tatum was a bit garbled, but her “I Resolve” was very strong. Still her best number was the droll and amusing “A Trip to the Library”.
We thought Nelson Eddy was back with Cornea’s song to “Ilona”. He has a rich and vintage sound that is very nice. We also truly enjoyed the one dance number in the show performed in the cabaret by nearly everyone but led by the Waiter (Seth Barnes) and the Busboy (Lucas Moquin). Congrats to choreographer Beth Freiman for this one.
Eisengruber’s Sipos is the steady fellow here, and he plays this role to perfection while Paige brings tons of boyish charm and enthusiasm to Arpad.
It’s true, folks don’t write letters much anymore, but almost everyone knows someone these days who’s met their soul mate online (or at least thinks they have). So love in the firmament is still alive and kicking and therefore this story line is as viable today as it ever was.
She Loves Me is well worth the trip to UM-Flint. The Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock music is great, the set is gorgeous, and the performance bodes well for this UM-Flint theatre season.
She Loves Me continues Nov. 2 & 9 at 2:00 pm and Nov. 7 & 8 at 7:30 pm. For more information contact the box office at 810-237-6520 or online at www.umflint.edu/theatredance