Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

She Loves Me

Clifton Guterman, Brynn O'Malley, Kevin Kraft, Nancy Lemenager, Jim Corti
Arena Stage is giving a charming holiday gift to the Washington theater community with its warm-hearted and beautifully appointed production of She Loves Me. The lovely 1963 musical by Jerry Bock (music), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), and Joe Masteroff (book) is not as well known as it should be, but this production is sure to introduce the work to new audiences.

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.

Arena Stage
She Loves Me
November 17th —December 31st
Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Based on a play by Miklos Laszlo
Arpad Laszlo: Clifton Guterman
Ladislav Sipos: Jim Corti
Ilona Ritter: Nancy Lemenager
Steven Kodaly: Sebastian La Cause
Georg Nowack: Kevin Kraft
Mr. Maraczek: Hal Robinson
Amalia Balash: Brynn O'Malley
Keller/Ensemble: Michael Scott
Busboy/Ensemble: Roger Rosen
Head Waiter: J. Fred Shiffman
Violinist: Jesse Terrill
Ensemble: Kurt Boehm, Ashlee Fife, Jennifer Irons, Joe Jackson, Rosalie Tenseth
Swings: Jeremy Leiner, Gia Mora
Directed by Kyle Donnelly
Choreographer: Kenneth Lee Roberson
Music Director/Conductor: William Foster McDaniel
Fichandler Theater, Arena Stage, Sixth and Maine avenues S.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or

-- Susan Berlin

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