Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The 1963 musical by Joe Masteroff (book), Jerry Bock (music), and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) is a chamber piece focusing on the clerks in a small, elegant parfumerie in 1930s Budapest. Lee Savage's intimate scenic design in the MAX Theatre extends forward into a thrust stage with audience seating on both sides; it appears to be a unit set but incorporates clever surprises that delineate additional locations and allow almost instantaneous scene changes.
She Loves Me follows the employees of Maraczek's Parfumerie (created in delicate detail by Savage and lit in pastels by Adam Honoré) through their days. Spirited Amalia Balash (Ali Ewoldt) joins the staff and soon finds herself at odds with senior clerk Georg Nowack (Deven Kolluri). Keeping them sane are the romantic letters each of them sends to a "Dear Friend" who truly understands them. The audience catches on to the truth much earlier than the characters.
The plot may be familiar as the basis of Hollywood movies from The Shop Around the Corner in 1940 to You've Got Mail in 1998, but what Bock and Harnick add is a rapturous score that includes at least one showpiece song for every member of the primary cast. As Amalia, Ewoldt is a sweet gamine who soars in songs like "Vanilla Ice Cream," while Kolluri pleases as a man who, up to a point, can't see what's in front of him.
The rest of the cast is just as good: Helen Hayes Award recipients Maria Rizzo, Bobby Smith, and Lawrence Redmond as, respectively, outspoken cashier Ilona Ritter, dyspeptic salesman Ladislav Sipos, and paternal store owner Mr. Maraczek; Jake Loewenthal as charmer Steven Kodaly, even if he comes across a little too nice for the character's manipulations; and Emmanuel Elliot Key as ambitious delivery boy Arpad Laszlo. David Schlumpf is suitably impassive and amusing as the headwaiter of a café, with Daniel Powers as a charming and athletic busboy.
The design elements add noticeably to the charm of the show. Costume designer Alejo Vietti has created a muted palette for the shoppers and elements of black and dark red for the café scene, while Honoré's lighting takes on different hues depending on the locale.
Musical director Jon Kalbfleisch conducts nine other musicians from the keyboard, providing a surprisingly rich sound from an unobtrusive balcony above and behind the set.
She Loves Me runs through April 24, 2022, in the MAX Theatre at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington VA. For tickets and information, please call 703-820-9771 or visit www.SigTheatre.org.
Book by Joe Masteroff