A Timeless Love Story

She Loves Me (Chance Theatre)userpic=dramamasksI’ve written before about how I’m always up to see musicals I’ve only heard, but never seen. So back in January, when we were at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim to see Lysistrata Jones, I noticed that they were planning to do She Loves Me at one of their holiday plays. I’m familiar with She Loves Me — I’ve got two cast album versions, and have always enjoyed the music from the show. From what I had heard, it was Bock/Harnick’s best crafted show, but never achieved the measure of success they later had with Fiddler on the Roof. So it went on my RADAR for future ticketing. Now it is December, and the Chance is performing She Loves Me. So guess what part of our mad dash was yesterday: that’s right: a 61 mile (one-way) jaunt to the Anaheim Hills for She Loves Me (after which we rushed to Culver City for an 8 PM concert, but that’s another writeup).

For those unfamiliar with She Loves Me, you probably know the story but by another name. The story started out as the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. This was later made into the movie The Shop around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan in 1940. It was then re-made into the movie In The Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson in 1949. Most recently, it was re-made into the movie You’ve Got Mail in 1998 with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. On the stage, however, in 1963 Parfumerie was turned into the musical She Loves Me by Joe Masteroff (book — he later went on to do the book of Caberet), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics — he next went on to Fiddler on the Roof), and Jerry Bock (music — and again Fidder).

The basic bones of the story are simple: Single man has a pen pal with whom he is falling in love. Single gal has a pen pal with whom she is falling in love. Single man and single gal work at the same place and hate each other’s guts, without knowing that each is the other’s pen pal. Now, bring them together with some catalyst, turn the gears, and enjoy the show.

In the case of She Loves Me, the story sticks pretty close to the original source. Georg is a clerk at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in Budapest in 1937 (although there are no hints of war — evidently, the real world doesn’t intrude on this story). He works together with the other clerks: Ilona, Sipos, and Kodaly, and the delivery boy Arpad, for Mr. Maraczek. When the competing parfumerie closes, one of their clerks, Amalia, talks her way into a clerk job (which upsets Georg, who starts getting on her case). While all this is happening, Kodaly is busy persuing anything in a skirt — in particular, Ilona. When Mr. Maraczek suspects his wife of cheating, he starts bearing down on Georg, who passes the pressure on to the rest of the staff — making things even testier with Amalia. His only consolation is his pen-pal, who he has never met or seen, but loves anyway. He schedules a rendezvous with her, without knowing she is really Amalia. They day they are to meet, Georg gets fired and send Sipos to tell his unknown date he won’t be there. Sipos sees it is Amalia, and gets Georg to go talk to her. Thinking he is spying on her, they have a gigantic fight. End Act I. In Act II, of course, all things predictably come together in predictable fashion, which I, predictably, won’t spoil :-).

The music in this story is just a delight. From the initial “Good Morning, Good Day” to “Days Gone By” to “Tonight at Eight” to “Try Me” to “Ice Cream” to “She Loves Me” to “A Trip to the Library” — it is just a joy. If you haven’t heard the score, I strongly suggest you pick up one of the cast albums out there. You’ll fall in love with it.

So, we’ve established that we have a classic love story with a winning score. Why isn’t this musical done more? In 1963, there were the big song and dance numbers that people expected, and it was booked into the wrong theatre at the wrong time — and thus lost money. This led to a perception that it was a failed show. Remember , however, that Chicago was a failure when it first hit Broadway. Often great shows aren’t always profitable or recognized as such. You can learn more about the show and the details of the synopsis at Wikipedia.

The execution of the show at the Chance was (as with every Chance show), perfect. The instrumentation was kept simple: a single pianist (Ryan O’Connell (FB)) and an occasional Romani Woman (Tina Nguyen (FB)) on violin. I’m a big fan of simple orchestrations — one of my favorite versions of I Do! I Do! is instrumented with just two pianos. Do it simple, or do it lush. What the Chance Theatre did here worked very very well. Note that the actor playing Kodaly, Taylor Stephenson, also served as musical director.

The performances were equally strong. In the lead positions were Stanton Kane Morales (FB) as Georg Nowack and Laura M. Hathaway (FB) as Amalia Balash (normally Erika C. Miller (FB) performs the role, but she was out this weekend). Both brought a wonderful joy and enthusiasm to the role (clearly evident in Georg’s wonderful numbers “Tonight at Eight” and “She Loves Me”, and Amalia in “Ice Cream”), and both sang and danced beautifully. In the first act, it was totally believable that they didn’t like each other, yet in the second act, they were able to turn that into a playful spark that made them a believable couple. This chemistry was more remarkable when you realize that we were watching the understudy, who hasn’t had the time to build the chemistry. Credit here goes to the actors, as well as the director, Sarah Figoten Wilson (FB).

In the second tier we had the remaining Maraczek employees: Ilona Ritter (Camryn Zelinger (FB)), Ladisov Sipos (Corky Loupe (FB)), Steven Kodaly (Taylor Stephenson), the shop owner Mr. Maraczek (Beach Vickers (FB)), and the delivery boy, Arpad Laszlo (Daniel Jared Hersh (FB)). All were excellent. In particular, Zelinger gave a spot-on performance in her number “A Trip to the Library” (which now I finally understand), and Vickers was wonderful in “Days Gone By”. Hersh had the appropriate youthful enthusiasm in “Try Me”, and both Loupe and Stephenson were great in their solo numbers “Perspective” and “Ilona”.

Rounding out the cast in the ensemble and smaller roles were Matt Takahashi (FB) (Waiter, Ensemble), Eric T. Anderson (FB) (Busboy, Ensemble), Shafik Wahhab (FB) (Keller, Ensemble), Elizabeth Adabale (FB) (Ensemble), Erica Schaeffer (FB) (Ensemble, Dance Captain), and Katelyn Spurgin (FB) (Ensemble). A few things about the ensemble that stick in my mind: A few of the male ensemble members doubled as women customers during Act I; this is not a surprise in an intimate theatre setting, and was actually quite fun to watch. What was even more fun to watch was the shop interaction of all the ensemble members — and particularly Adabale, Schaeffer, and Spurgin — as they tried products and silently worked with the clerks. Schaeffer and Spurgin were also fun to watch as the patrons in the Cafe scene, and Adabale handled her Fats Waller number quite well. Takahashi was quite good in “A Romantic Atmosphere”, and all of the ensemble was just delightful in “Twelve Days to Christmas”. Lastly, and most superficially :-), Adabale has one of the cutest faces I’ve seen in a while :-).

She Loves Me doesn’t have the big splashy production numbers one expects in shows from the 1960s; this was one of its original problems. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have dancing, choreography, and movement. There were scenes that were particularly movement-beautiful — in particular the movement of the opening number (“Good Morning, Good Day”, the simple dancing of “Days Gone By”, all the movement in the Cafe, Ilona’s movement in “A Trip to the Library”, and the overall chaos and movement in “Twelve Days to Christmas”.  She Loves Me was choreographed by Christopher M. Albrecht (FB), and Erica Schaeffer (FB) served as dance captain.

Turning to the technical: Again, the execution of She Loves Me was spot-on. The sound design of Ryan Brodkin (FB) was clear and worked well. When the show started I was a bit concerned that the actors might be over-amplified for the space, but the sound ended up being great. The lighting by Jonathan Daroca (FB) worked well to establish the mood, and didn’t seem to depend on the spotlights so many stage shows of this era seem to depend upon. The scenic and costume design by Bruce Goodrich (FB), together with the prop design of Amy Ramirez (FB), worked reasonably well to establish the mood and setting. I say reasonably, because I did have trouble recognizing it as Budapest; I was thinking more French or English given the barets, the backgrounds, the pricing, and the place names. However, the open and close set for the parfumerie worked particularly well. The clothing otherwise seemed period appropriate. Rounding out the technical credits were Michael Martinez-Hamilton (FB) as Assistant Director/Dramaturg, Chauna Goldberg/FB providing hair and make-up, Michelle Kincaid assisting with costume design, and Jonathan Castanien/FB as stage manager.

She Loves Me” continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim until December 28. If you can fit it into your schedule, you’ll enjoy it — it is a thoroughly delightful show. Tickets are available through the Chance Box Office. Goldstar is sold out, and discount tickets are not available through LA Stage Tix. Chance has announced their 2015, which consists of 11(!) shows over two stages (they are currently fundraising for the second stage). The shows are (♦ = main stage; ◊ = second stage): ♦ Loch Ness (a new musical with book and music by Marshall Pailet of Triassic Parq, lyrics & book by A. D. Penedo; January 30 – March 1); ♦ After the Revolution (by Amy Herzog; April 10 – May 10); ◊ Samsara (by Lauren Yee; April 30 – May 31); ♦ Hairspray (Book by Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan, Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Whitman & Marc Shaiman; July 10 – August 9); ◊ The Dragon Play (by Jenny Connell Davis, July 23 – August 23); ♦ A Bright New Boise (by Sam Hunter; September 25 – October 25); ♦ Anne of Green Gables (Book by Joseph Robinette, Music and Lyrics by Evelyn D. Swensson; Holiday Series: November 27 – December 27); ◊ The Eight: Reindeer Monologues (by Jeff Goode; Holiday Series: December 8 – December 23); ◊ Alice in Wonderland (by Randy Wyatt; Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA): February 28 – March 8); ♦ Fancy Nancy – The Musical (Book and lyrics by Susan DiLallo, Music by Sam Viverito; TYA – May 29 – June 7); and ◊ The Legend(s) of Sleepy Hollow (by Jonathan Josephson, TYA: October 8 – October 18). [As an aside, for the TYA shows, I’m impressed that Chance does a special performance for Autism Spectrum kids.] Of these, I’m interested in Loch Ness and Fancy Nancy.

Dining Notes: Prior to the show, we found a spectacular restaurant that is almost worth the drive on its own: True Shabu (FB). It is basically across the street from the Chance, next to the cinemas. It is an upscale Shabu Shabu restaurant where you cook your food at the table. Meats are organic, vegetables are organic and from local farmer’s markets where possible, the sauces are hand-made, the place is gluten-free friendly. Prices are not outrageous, especially for lunch. You can see the menu here. Note: The chef indicated they may be changing names to help people find it better, but whatever the name: go before or after the show. You’ll love it.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Right after this show we ran to Culver City for the  Austin Lounge Lizards concert at Boulevard Music in Culver City (that’s the next writeup). There is one more show in December for me: A Christmas Carol, as interpreted by Zombie Joe’s Underground (FB) on December 28  (my wife is seeing The Klezmatics at Disney Hall on December 22). January is slowly filling up:  “An Evening with Groucho” at AJU with Frank Ferrente at American Jewish University on Sun January 11; “Avenue Q” at REP East (FB) on Sat Sanuary 17; and possibly the Cantors Concert on Sat January 31 at Temple Ahavat Shalom. February and March pick up even more, with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB) on February 15, a hold for “Loch Ness” at the Chance Theatre (FB)  on February 21, “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28, the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a hold for “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.