THEATRE REVIEW: The Theater Barn’s ‘She Loves Me’ a charming evening of theaterMore Info
She Loves Me
Book by Joe Masteroff
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Music by Jerry Bock
Directed and choreographed by Kelly Shook
“The key to box 1443”
There is no sweeter musical than “She Loves Me.” Even with a suicide, with sexual abuse of an employee (#MeToo take note), with infidelity and with high-pressure salesmanship, there is no sweeter musical than this one. “Boy needs girl; girl needs boy” is at the heart of this show, and the two people in need are destined to fall in love somehow. Traveling the trail from August to Christmas Eve, the show gives its protagonists five months to move from strangers to strongers as understanding and attraction grow into true love. Letters are exchanged between the parties: While she may hold the key to one letter box, he holds the key to her heart, winning her mind first and her heart later. By the finale, all that was bad between them and around them is forgotten as they finally clinch and kiss as the lights fade out on a happy couple.
And guess what? No spoiler alert for the above because the title says it all: “She Loves Me.” Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick wrote this musical that opened during a newspaper strike in New York City so that reviews failed to come in and to strengthen the show’s hold on the public’s imagination. Barbara Cook and Daniel Massey caught people’s attention merely through their good looks and a four-sided LP original cast album. It only ran for 302 performances in 1964. And yet it has become one of the most enduring musicals of all time.
At the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, New York, it is working its special, romantic magic in a production that lacks a lot of the storybook nature of other productions. The set is a simple one (though not for the Barn) and its lush orchestration is reduced to piano, bass and drums. No “violin starts to play” on cue. But the show is so well-written that, somehow, it doesn’t really matter. A very good company delivers its message through their performances.
Under director/choreographer Kelly Shook, the principal players deliver nicely. Sweet-voiced Alexandra Foley plays Amalia Balash, a new clerk in the Maraczek Parfumerie; and her supervisor, George Nowack, is played by Patrick Scholl. She comes on strong and he is vinegar to her syrup. It is clear—to us, at least, if not to them—that there are sparks ignited in their first meeting. These are noticed by Ilona Ritter—played with gusto and an Ethel Merman-tinged voice by Alexa Renee—and Ladislav Sipos—a mustachioed Allen Phelps. Both are roundly ignored by the other clerk, the smooth-talking and sexually motivated Steven Kodaly, portrayed here by Travis C. Brown. All are under the supervising eye of Mr. Maraczek, played by Theater Barn regular John Trainor.
If you don’t know this show, you should certainly get to New Lebanon and check it out. The comedy and romance and musical gems make that an imperative. If you haven’t seen these folks before there, are some wonderful new faces and voices to enjoy. The more difficult musical numbers are in the first act so don’t be dismayed if you don’t like some of them, because the second half of the show will fill your ears and heart with pleasure.
As Ilona discovers the magic of books during “A Trip to the Library” and Amalia realizes the impact of “Vanilla Ice Cream,” George learns that “She Loves Me.” These three numbers alone are worth the price of admission here.
On opening night, Foley had a few vocal problems in the first act; Phelps had a few lyric flubs; Trainor skipped over a few lines; and Brown seemed to lose determination in his departure song originally delivered on Broadway by the estimable Jack Cassidy, who could make even the word “my” seem orgasmic. No one was more faithful to his role in this production and more wonderful in it than Ali Louis Bourzgui as Arpad Laszlo, the delivery boy who wants to work inside as a clerk. His second act opener, “Try Me,” had the large audience nearly cheering “Yes. Try him!” Levi Squire was slippery and sly as the head waiter at a restaurant with a “romantic atmosphere” and Xavier McKnight as the busboy/waiter was delightful. The dancing in this number was Shook’s best choreographic sequence and was memorably delicious (better than the food, according to the song’s lyrics).
This is just a charming way to spend an evening at the theater. There is no other way to describe it—charming. It is great work? No. Is it something you will enjoy? Yes. Would I see it again? Absolutely. “Charming, romantic, the perfect cafe …” See it for yourself.
She Loves Me plays at the Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, New York, through Sunday, Aug. 19. For information and tickets, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, go to www.theaterbarn.com or call the box office at (518) 794-8989.