Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
She Loves Me
If ever a musical begged for strings it is She Loves Me. A delicate "sacher torte" of a show set in old Budapest, it is as delicate as cotton candy and as delicious as, well, vanilla ice cream. The sweeping orchestrations of the original production by Don Walker have been adapted, wonderfully, by the late Michael Larsen and, while a noble effort, they cannot hold a candle to what should have been. While not a fan of tracks rather than live playing, since the players cannot see the musicians who are behind the scenery and there are no monitors in the house to help the actors, using tracks could have elevated the energy and enthusiasm of the cast. That energy is sorely missing especially in act one.
The musical stems from the 1937 Miklós László play Parfumerie, which also begat the films The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail. It is a charming tale of love between two shop clerks who have each joined a "lonely hearts club." They appear to loathe each initially, but the audience sees what is happening and cannot help but root for the inevitable, charming and happy outcome. As performed by our two leads, the usual tears streamed down my face at the finale.
About those leads. Is there nothing Julie Kleiner, our Amalia, cannot do? I have seen the original Broadway production, with the incomparable Barbara Cook, as well as each revival, and Kleiner is the closest to Cook I can imagine. She not only sings the songs beautifully but, in act two, mines humor and laughs from every possible word. She played cockney in Me and My Girl, the all-American Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street, and starred in the beloved war horse Carousel. In She Loves Me she surpasses all and turns in a performance for the ages. Brava Ms. Kleiner!
Matthew Kacergis was a name new to me, but with the diction of a Gielgud and the singing voice of a talented lark, his Georg won me over in seconds. The chemistry with Kleiner slowly builds until the glorious explosion at the finale. More importantly, our two leads, especially Kacergis, give the show a desperately needed shot of adrenaline and passion throughout.
Patrick Cassidy plays Steven Kodaly, the role that won his dad, the late Jack Cassidy, a Tony, and he does his best impression of that performance. Having lost his half-brother David just days before opening, I applaud him for his "show must go on" performance. Key in her supporting role is Lauren Weinberg as Ilona, Amalia's confidante in the store. Her "A Trip to the Library" is a highlight, of several, in act two. A top comedienne, her Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, also at the Wick, was a highlight last season. As Ilona, she tones it down and is adorable and touching at the same time.
Both Paul Carlin as Maraczek and Barry J. Tarallo as the put-upon Sipos do justice to their roles, and Kevin Robert Kelly is a hoot as the Headwaiter in the final scene of act one. Tepper Saffren charms as Arpad, the boy who becomes a man, and the small ensemble all deserve credit: Dalia Aleman, AJ Cola, Alexandra Frost, Lindsey Johr, Nicole Kinzel, Laura Plyler, Thomas Porat, Brian Reiff and Vince Wingerter.
Norb Joerder artfully and delicately directs the show, right down to some delicious details I will not spoil for those attending, and it's delightful to watch. The inclusion of large panels alternating between downstage left and right necessitated that the main set, the parfumerie, be situated very far upstage, which is a shame since the performers are a tad distant from the audience and I cannot think of a more intimate musical than this one. Nearer would have been better.
Musical carping aside, this She Loves Me still charms and enchants, thanks to its two leads. It's a perfect holiday treat for the entire family.
She Loves Me runs through December 23rd, 2017, at The Wick Theatre, 7901 No. Federal Highway in Boca Raton FL. For tickets, please call 561-995-2333 or visit their website at www.thewick.org.