The seldom produced, charming musical She Loves Me has been given a superb mounting by director Van Kaplan and the CLO. As the last locally produced presentation of the season (the tour version of Thoroughly Modern Millie finishes things up next week), She Loves Me showcases a talented cast and orchestra, a grand set, and a long list of enjoyable songs. The original production ran for 302 performances during the 1963-64 Broadway season and earned five Tony Award nominations (with one win for Jack Cassidy as featured actor). A revival 30 years later had almost the same run - 354 performances - with nine Tony nominations (with one win for lead actor Boyd Gaines).
The score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick score has yielded no hugely popular offstage songs, although Barbara Cook has continued to give life to one of the songs, "Ice Cream," which she sang in the original production and continues to sing in her solo show, and the title song is so catchy, it may be familiar to many. There are two dozen tunes in this score, most of which work well at moving the plot and developing characters. Some of the characters are not so involved in the plot, or even a subplot, to demand their own songs, but it's great to see talented supporting actors have their moments to shine.
The plot of She Loves Me is a well used story, originally born in a 1936 play called Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo, and has been the basis for a straight play and three films (one of which was a musical). Basically, two pen pals unknowingly (for a while) are associated in "real life" - they love each other in letters, but spar in person. He finds out her identity first and has a little fun with his secret knowledge before the expected happy ending arrives when everything is resolved (as always, there is also a subplot which makes for a rocky road to the happy ending). I'm not sure there is another musical with so many "good" people - there are really no real villains. Only two characters are purposely harmful, and one of those is never seen or heard on stage.
She Loves Me is officially set in "A City in Europe," and holds some of the setting points of the original play which was set in Budapest: the monetary system, the characters' names, the architecture, and occasionally the music style. The location is never referred to and all characters seem quite American.
In this wonderfully cast production, George Dvorsky (Broadway's The Scarlet Pimpernel and Off Broadway's Pete 'n' Keely and Cinderella) plays the eligible bachelor store clerk Georg Nowack. Dvorsky, who is originally from this area and has returned several times for CLO productions, is suited perfectly for the role. He is a little (appropriately) stuffy at first, then really lets loose when he sings the title song in the second act. As Georg's pen-paramour Amalia Balash, Jacquelyn Piro (Sunset Boulevard and Big tours and Miss Saigon and Les Miserables on Broadway) mines the comedy and sings the songs quite fetchingly. She definitely hits her high point (and high notes) in "Ice Cream."
A standout supporting performance is delivered with a bang by Tim Hartman as the Headwaiter at a restaurant visited by Georg and Amalia. Hartman channels classic comedic actor Billy De Wolfe with a campy, broad, crowd-pleasing turn as the man in control at a restaurant where romantic liaisons are the rule. Also during this scene, we are treated to a Hungarian-flavored ensemble piece called "A Romantic Atmosphere" in which Hartman, Eric Hatch as the busboy, and chorus members dance beautifully and with great humor to illustrate the atmosphere of the restaurant - a really nice showcase for the talented ensemble. There is a lot of clever writing in other group songs as well, particularly the songs sung in the shop, including the busy "Twelve Days to Christmas," "Sounds While Selling," and even the cute "farewell" song the shop staff sings - always - as customers leave the shop.
The sets (Paper Mill's Michael Anania is listed as Scenic Consultant) feature a variety of pieces which are presented via turntable, and walls open, close and move to change scene. There were a few glitches in this operation on opening night, but when working, the sets are very fine (and very colorful). Costumes supplied by Harlequin Costume Co. in Winnipeg are appropriate and in good condition.
Special attention should be given to the excellent full orchestra and its coordinator, Frank Ostrowski, as well as Musical Arranger James Drake for providing a lush and impressive musical component for this production.
This production of She Loves Me is a great evening of theatre for the whole family. The great cast and orchestra bring out the best in this rarely seen musical.
She Loves Me continues through August 10 at the Benedum Center for Pittsburgh CLO. For ticket information, stop by the Box Office, call 412-456-6666, or visit www.pittsburghclo.org.
She Loves Me. Book by Joe Masteroff. Music by Jerry Bock. Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Based on a play by Miklos Laszlo. Directed by Van Kaplan. Musical Director Tom Helm. Lighting Designer John McLain. Scenic Consultant Michael Anania. Costumers from Harlequin Costume Co. Choreographer Mark Esposito.
Cast (in order of appearance): John Michael Coppola, Eddie Korbich, Beth Glover, David Hess, George Dvorsky, Lenny Wolpe, Jacquelyn Piro, Tim Hartman.
Ensemble: Megan Nicole Arnoldy, Eric Hatch, Courtney Laine Mazza, Anna McNeely, Garrett Miller, Jo Ellen Miller, Pilar Millhollen, Gavan Pamer, Meg Pryor, Eric Daniel Santagata, Sarrah Strimel, Justin Tanner.