Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
She Loves Me
The plot is an adaptation of a Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo, which may be familiar to movie fans in its incarnations as The Shop Around the Corner or the more recent You've Got Mail. It's irresistibly romantic, a gently character-driven miniature with a small cast, rather than an overwhelming extravaganza. Its quiet appeal and small scale may have been one reason why, in an era dominated by brassy musical comedies like Hello, Dolly!, the show ran less than a year on Broadway.
Director Kyle Donnelly has extensive experience with comedies of manners, and she brings the same incisive, discerning eye to the situations that arise among the employees of Maraczek's Parfumerie in 1930s Budapest. (This is an idealized view of Europe between the wars, the exact opposite of Arena's dark production of Cabaret earlier this season. Coincidentally, Masteroff wrote the book for that show as well.)
Donnelly has found a company of performers who not only embody their characters delightfully, but can sing and dance as well as they act. Brynn O'Malley is ingenuous as eager, uncertain Amalia Balash, and she has the necessary soaring soprano range for her showoff solo, "Vanilla Ice Cream." As her co-worker and unlikely suitor, Georg Nowack, Kevin Kraft occasionally suggests Jimmy Stewart (who played the analogous role in The Shop Around the Corner) in his performance: forthright and outspoken, sometimes to his detriment, yet sweetly insecure underneath.
As Ilona Ritter, a saleswoman who's been around the block a few times, Nancy Lemenager is tall, sleek, striking and very funny. She's a good match with Sebastian La Cause as Steven Kodaly, a smarmy lothario who slithers when he walks.
In fact, everyone deserves note: Jim Corti as the nervous salesman Sipos; Clifton Guterman as the eager delivery boy Arpad; Hal Robinson, by turns ebullient and distraught as the store owner, Mr. Maraczek; and J. Fred Shiffman, shamelessly stealing his scene as a supercilious head waiter.
Kenneth Lee Roberson ably incorporates moments of dance, even into some of the dialogue scenes: a pair of skaters here, some smartly moving postmen there. His showpiece, though, is "A Romantic Atmosphere," where the diners at an elegant café hilariously turn the place into a shambles. The orchestra, led by William Foster McDaniel, keeps spirits high throughout.
Kate Edmunds has designed a jewel box-like set of glass display cases, beaded drops from the ceiling, and a soothing rose-based color scheme. In this world, one can know that everything will turn out all right for the characters. The only problem with the physical production is that it has necessitated a move in the placement of the intermission to cover a set change, which means that the production now breaks at a rather awkward point in the action.