Thursday, November 27, 2014

She Loves Me

Book by:  Joe Masteroff, based on a play by Miklos Laszlo
Music by:  Jerry Bock
Lyrics by:  Sheldon Harnick
VenueArvada Center for the Arts & Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada CO, 80003.
Running Time:  2 hours, 45 minutes (includes 20 minute intermission).
Date of Performance:  Tuesday, November 25, 2014 (Opening night performance.)

There is nothing quite as simple and charming as a music box.  You wind it up, open it, and, like magic, beautiful, melodious music starts playing.  And it's a box; it's functional.  You can put your most precious, and most delicate items inside.  
She Loves Me is much like a music box.  The elements (characters, story, and setting) are precious.  The music is melodic, the voices are beautiful, the characters have the charm, and the set is exquisite.  It's almost as if you could wind up the stage, shake it like a snow globe and hear the music start.  Inside, you'll find a most precious and delicate piece of musical theater.
The show is set in a perfume shop in Budapest, Hungary in the 1930's, and a music box drives part of the story.  It's a tale of how people met, courted, and found love before there was an internet.  It involves "pen pals," a "lonely hearts club," and other quaint but now mostly forgotten traditions.  
The playwright lets the audience in on the secret; the pen pals who have never met actually know each other.  Of course, despite the obvious, the characters are clueless; they don't suspect that the other is the "Dear Friend" they correspond with.  For those who have endured an awkward blind date, the plot is liable to stir up the anxiety of meeting a stranger for the first time to learn if he or she is suitable partner material.  
If all this sounds vaguely familiar, that may be because you've seen another version of Miklos Laszlo's script (originally called The Parfumerie).  It was reworked into the 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner, with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, and again in the 1998 film You've Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Set by Benjamin Whitmore.  L-R:  Julia Jackson (Amalia), Andrew Russell (Georg), Jennifer Lorae (Ilana), and Rob Costigan (Ladislov Sipos).
Benjamin Whitmore's set is truly a music box set in every tiny detail.  The Parfumerie recreates every intricate detail of the shop.  The clever set pieces morph from the interior to the exterior of the store in seconds.  Whitmore has given the stage a music box/snow globe/1930's look that is as dazzling as it is functional.
Julia Jackson (Amalia) and Andrew Russell (Georg).
The "Dear Friends" are both extremely lovable.  Georg Nowack (Andrew Russell) and Amalia Balash (Julia Jackson) are convincingly annoyed with each other at work, but in love with each other on paper.  Russell has the looks and the charm to woo any woman, although he is a sensitive guy who can't take rejection.  His character, Georg, sees Amalia as an annoying interloper in his otherwise satisfying work environment.  Jackson plays Amalia with a mix of cunning and sweetness; she's a suitable foil for the bossy but intriguing Georg.  Both Russell and Jackson have marvelous voices to go with their considerable acting skills.  Their talents are on full display in the second act on the song Where's My Shoe?, one of my favorite moments in the show.
While Russell and Jackson are the leads here, they are far from the only talent on the Arvada stage.  Jennifer Lorae as Ilona Ritter is the flirty, feminine, and fabulous Parfumerie employee who is a remarkably contemporary woman for the 1930's.  Ritter clearly enjoys strutting and posing for the guys in the shop.  The focus of her attention is Steven Kodaly (Gregory Gerbrandt), who is willing and able to juggle two women in his off duty affairs.  Gerbrandt is sufficiently annoying as the pilfering, philandering Kodaly, and nobody sheds a tear when he gets fired in the second act.
Rob Costigan plays Ladislov Sipos, the middle aged clerk and family man at The Parfumerie.  Costigan is both proper and mischievous, but always charming.  He seems above the fray at the shop, yet a true friend to Georg.  He has an unusual stage presence that he uses to maximum effect here. 
While there is no music in She Loves Me that will have you humming as you leave the theater, there is one musical scene that you will not soon forget.  The scene in the Cafe Imperial is hilarious.  I would not want to be Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck trying to choreograph the chaos that occurs at the Imperial.  It's a joy to watch, as Tim Howard (Busboy) and Stephen Day (Waiter) take the place over.  
This is a familiar plot done by a great cast, crew, and orchestra.  The climax is foreshadowed long before it happens, but it's still an engaging and lovable story.  She Loves Me is not profound, nor does it try to be.  It is, however, great holiday family fun.  The music, the voices, the choreography, the direction, and the acting are all focused on delivering an exceptional musical theater experience.  That focus pays off; She Loves Me is a great evening of entertainment.

She Loves Me is suitable for all ages, with one caveat.  There is an offstage simulated suicide attempt, which may be disturbing for young children.
There is ample free parking at the Arvada Center.  
This show closes on December 21, 2014. 
Photo Credit:  Bill Wheeler

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
Silvi's Kitchen, 7600 Grandview, Arvada CO, 80002 (formerly Udi's Restaurant) features casual dining with a variety of internationally inspired entrees and wood fired pizza in Olde Town Arvada.  We had the Hawaiian pizza, notable for including jalapenos here.  The bacon bits were large and done extra crispy, providing a flavor explosion in nearly every bite.  Silvi's Happy Hour is from 3:00-6:00 PM daily, but in the bar and patio only.  Silvi's is a 5-10 minute drive to or from the theater.

Photo Credits: Unless otherwise noted, credit for photos belongs to the  Arvada Center for the Arts & Humanities,and to Patricia Switzer Photography.  
Tickets HERE.

Creative Team:
Artistic Producer:  Rod A. Lansberry
Director:  Gavin Mayer
Assistant Director:  Pat Payne
Music Director:  David Nehls
Choreographer:  Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck
Stage Manager: Lisa Cook
Scenic Design:  Brian Mallgrave
Lighting Design:  Vance McKenzie
Sound Design:  David Thomas
Costumes:  Liz Jasperse
Wig and Makeup Design:  Diana Ben-Kiki

Arpad Laszlo:  Parker Redford
Ladislov Sipos:  Rob Costigan
Ilona Ritter:  Jennifer Lorae
Steven Kodaly:  Gregory Gerbrandt
Georg Nowack:  Andrew Russell
Mr. Maraczek:  Mark Rubald
Amalia Balash:  Julia Jackson
Mr. Keller:  Brian Jackson
Busboy:  Tim Howard
Waiter:  Stephen Day
Shoppers/Carolers:  Maddie Franke, Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, Piper Lindsay Arpan, Rachel Turner (Nurse/Shopper), Megan Van De Hey, Jean-Luc Cavnar.

Ensemble:  Piper Lindsay Arpan, Jean-Luc Cavnar, Maddie Franke, Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, Tim Howard, Brian Jackson, Andrew Keeler, Michael Ochoa, Rachel Turner, Megan Van De Hey.

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