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Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

She Loves Me

Also see Sharon's recent review of Ten Unknowns

Reprise's She Loves Me is a production that comes with no expectations. It is the last production of a fairly uninspired season, and a replacement production at that (Kismet has been moved to next year). Additionally, one of its leads, Damon Kirsche, is a replacement for another actor (Patrick Cassidy) who had been announced for the production not that long ago. Under the circumstances, the best that could have been hoped for was for Reprise to just get through the end of the season with its subscriber base intact and plan to get back on track next year. So it is all the more surprising that She Loves Me hits a home run, perfectly capturing the innocent charm of the musical in a sweet, well-sung gem of a production.

Scenic designer Robert L. Smith provides a sugary pink world for this boy-meets-girl-but-doesn't-realize-she's-the-same-girl-he's-falling-in-lov e-with-via-anonymous-letters tale. The bulk of the action takes place in a perfume shop, the back wall of which - in a break from Reprise tradition - completely hides the orchestra. (Conductor Gerald Sternbach can be seen popping over the wall from time to time, particularly at the top of the second act, when he leans toward the audience and enthusiastically yells "Orchestra! Orchestra!" to drum up a little well-earned applause for his team.) The set is so impressive by Reprise standards (it even has one piece which moves without obvious human assistance), one initially fears that Reprise has mistakenly focused its limited resources and attention on the appearance of the production rather than the performance elements.

Damon Kirsche, Kaitlan Hopkins, Rebecca Luker, Scott Waara
Not hardly. The lovers who don't know they are lovers are delightfully played by Scott Waara and Rebecca Luker. Luker's soprano is certainly up to the task of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's score, but the real treasure is her spirited characterization of Amalia, the bright, quick, attractive salesgirl who started out on her supervisor's bad side and can't seem to manage to make things better with him. Waara is a good match for her as Georg, the supervisor. It's apparent that Georg and Amalia fight over everything, but Waara instills Georg with a gentle restraint during their arguments, which keeps Georg as a likeable fellow. Georg is the more difficult character to play - he discovers that Amalia has been his secret epistolary lover before she does, and the fact that he doesn't immediately reveal the truth to her can make him seem unnecessarily cruel. But Waara plays up Georg's own insecurities, and it's clear that Georg isn't toying with Amalia, but is instead a sympathetic guy scared of rejection.

The entire company is up to the same standard, combining lovely singing with solid character creation. Kaitlin Hopkins plays Amalia's friend Ilona, a woman who made the wrong choices in love by falling for good looks rather than a good heart. Hopkins has a no-nonsense delivery which doesn't fail to earn laughs, and her spunky rendition of "I Resolve" - her vow not to make the same mistake again - makes the audience root for her just as much as for Amalia and Georg. Damon Kirsche plays the pretty face for whom Ilona fell, and he plays it to the hilt, always striking a pose with his hand in his pocket as though modelling his extra-sharp suit for any female eyes that might be looking. Larry Cedar gives a great performance as Sipos, a quiet salesclerk who observes everything around him without making waves, and Cedar nails his moment in the spotlight, "Perspective," in which he humorously plays up the inconsistency in a passionate song about being a milquetoast.

Despite these notable performances, and others equally as good, nobody stands out as a real scene-stealer; the script gives everyone a chance to shine, and they all take their moments, but always in service of the show.

The single flaw in the production is one of the costumes designed by Steven Howard and Bob Miller. When Amalia dresses for the big date when she finally meets her secret lover, she is supposed to be wearing an outfit which makes everyone else notice she is dressed for romance. Instead, she is wearing a dowdy shopgirl dress, which is less flattering than anything else she wears in the show (including a pair of pajamas). But setting aside this minor misstep, Reprise's She Loves Me is a charming little diversion - a quaint old-fashioned love story taking place in a cotton candy world, performed with an easy competence and a gentle spirit that make the whole experience a delight.

She Loves Me continues at the Freud Playhouse at UCLA through March 30, 2003.

Reprise! Broadway's Best; Marica Seligson, Producing Artistic Director; Jim Gardia, Managing Director; presents She Loves Me. Book by Joe Masteroff; Music by Jerry Bock; Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Based on a play by Mikos Laszlo; Originally Directed on Broadway by Harold Prince; Originally Produced on Broadway by Harold Prince, in association with Lawrence N. Kasha and Philip C. McKenna; Original Orchestrations by Don Walker; Adapted by Frank Matosich, Jr. Scenic Design by Robert L. Smith; Costume Design by Steven Howard & Bob Miller; Lighting Design by Steven Young; Sound Design by Philip G. Allen; Associate Music Director Sam Kriger; Technical Director Peter Falco; Stage Manager Stephanie Coltrin Meyer; Casting Director Bruce H. Newberg, C.S.A.; Press Representative Davidson & Choy Publicity; General Manager Kelly Estrella; Managing Director Jim Gardia. Produced by Marcia Seligson; Musical Direction by Gerald Sternbach; Choreographed by Dan Mojica; Directed by Gordon Hunt.

Cladislav Sipos - Larry Cedar
Arpad Laszlo - Deven May
Ilona Ritter - Kaitlin Hopkins
Steven Kodaly - Damon Kirsche
Georg Nowack - Scott Waara
Mr. Maraczek - Lenny Wolpe
Amalia Balash - Rebecca Luker
Detective Keller - Richard Israel
Headwaiter - Perry Lambert
Busboy - Vincent Ortega
Ensemble - Corey Greenan, Richard Israel, Christa Jackson, Caryn E. Kaplan, Perry Lambert, Claci Miller, James Patric Moran, Vincent Ortega.

Photo by Tom Drucker

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Sharon Perlmutter

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