Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
She Loves Me
The 1960s saw a number of musicals that would become classics, and even though She Loves Me might not be as well known as some of the other titles from that decade, it is an utterly charming show deserving of significant admiration. The current production at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) displays those many charms, thanks to spot-on direction and splendid performances.
She Loves Me is based on the Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklós László, which has also been adapted into several films, including The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail. Set in 1937 in Budapest, it's the story of two shop clerks who are constantly bickering at work, unaware that they are each other's secret romantic pen pals. The musical debuted in 1963 on Broadway, with subsequent revivals in 1993 and 2016.
The book by Joe Masteroff is appealing from the first moments until the very end, with interesting characters, a smile-inducing storyline, and a smart mix of romance, humor, and unexpected plot twists. The leading characters of Amalia and Georg have strong character arcs, and there are many unique supporting characters as well.
The score is by Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), who are more famously known for their work on Fiddler on the Roof. She Loves Me is a smorgasbord of delightful songs, with beautiful melodies paired with equally witty words. "Good Morning, Good Day" is a perfect opening number. "Sounds While Selling" and "A Trip To the Library" have especially wonderful wordplay in the lyrics. Musically, you can't get much better than "Will He Like Me?," "Ilona," "I Resolve," "Vanilla Ice Cream," and the title number, a driving expression of unexpected love.
CCM director/choreographer Eric Byrd clearly understands the piece well, and sticks fairly close to traditional staging choices–recognizing that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. There are smooth transitions, apt blocking and tone, and good use of the levels and various entry and exit points on stage. A single, modular door and frame are used effectively throughout. The limited dances are appropriate and pleasant. Ian Axness leads a small yet great sounding four-piece orchestra.
CCM's deep talent pool is on display here, with many other student performers preparing for their mainstage production of Something Rotten!, which premieres in a few weeks. As Georg, Jack D'Angelo is impressive vocally, both in power and quality. Jess Zylstra is equally remarkable with her singing, supplying a lovely soprano which is well-suited to songs from musical theater classics such as She Loves Me. Both performers display versatility in their acting, and the show is in good hands with the pair in these leading roles.
Scene-stealer Zoey Johnson is aptly sassy and flighty as Ilona, garnering lots of laughs through her body language and facial expressions. Stone Mountain is a strong singer as the vain Kodaly, and Ryan Behan is fittingly eager and excels with his song "Try Me." Tate McElhaney shows off a wide vocal range and many subtle acting choices as Sipos. As shop owner Maraczek, Stanislav Przedlacki displays a commanding stage presence and provides a thoughtful performance throughout. Sean Polk makes the most out of his moments as the Headwaiter, including showing off some vocal gymnastics. The ensemble does very well, each playing multiple roles which all require great timing and dedication to get right.
This black box production keeps it fairly simple in the design, with a built-in proscenium arch and a winding staircase as provided by Sean Haffey. The perfume shop, which is often displayed with a large, impressive set, is presented with four modular display cases, and it works sufficiently. The period-appropriate costumes by Clara Cavins feature fine details and are in an interesting color palette. The lighting by Baron Leon is professionally rendered and effective.
She Loves Me is an ideal musical for a program like CCM, which has the talent to pull off a challenging show. Fine direction, a brilliant cast, and apt design are the reasons that almost every performance in the show's brief run is sold out.
She Loves Me runs through October 9, 2022, at University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Cohen Family Studio Theater, 290 CCM Blvd, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-556-4183 or visit ccmonstage.universitytickets.com/w/?cid=168.