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She Loves Me

The charming 1964 musical is receiving a highly polished production at the Westport Country Playhouse.

By Connecticut
Jessica Grové and Jeremy Peter Johnson
in She Loves Me
(© T Charles Erickson)
Jessica Grové and Jeremy Peter Johnson
in She Loves Me
(© T Charles Erickson)
Believe it or not, the thoroughly beautiful Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock score for She Loves Me, now being revived at the Westport Country Playhouse, was not nominated in 1964 for the Tony Award. The enduring shame of that oversight is underlined by the oh-so-charming musical's current production, which director Mark Lamos has vigorously polished to a high gloss.

Joe Masteroff's adaptation of Miklos Lazslo's play Parfumerie -- which has been reworked many times on stage and film -- tells the story of Georg Nowack (Jeremy Peter Johnson) and Amalia Balash (Jessica Grové), who work at the same fancy Budapest emporium. Not only do they instantly dislike each other for no real reason other than instant attraction, they don't realize they're the same pair exchanging increasingly impassioned love letters as anonymous pen pals.

While the embattled inamoratas dart verbal arrows back and forth -- although Cupid is actually wielding the bow -- they're surrounded by a shopful of colorfully expressive characters, including amiable employer Mr. Maraczek (Lenny Wolpe), womanizing clerk Steven Kodaly (Douglas Sills), too-often-womanized salesgirl Ilona Ritter (Nancy Anderson), play-by-the-shop-rules Ladislav Sipos (Michael McCormick), and ambitious delivery boy Arpad Laszlo (Christopher Shin).

Meanwhile, discerning customers come and go -- Alison Cimmet, Jenny Latimer and Robin Lounsbury, prominent among them -- in Candace Donnelly's soigne 1930s costumes and against Riccardo Hernandez' set that features blow-ups of romantic 18th-century and 19th-century paintings. The shoppers are sometimes put through movements by choreographer Jonathan Butterell, who also stages a few turns around the floor for Sills and Anderson and a couple of discreet tangos and waltzes at the tuner's Cafe Imperial (presided over by David Bonnano, with nervous baritone authority).

Bock and Harnick's numbers, with their witty lyrics and transporting melodies, are among the last to grace the all-but-now-vanished musical comedy love stories. Indeed, She Loves Me is so rich with love songs that two gems -- "Ice Cream" and the title song -- are delivered back to back with thrilling freshness by, respectively, Amalia and Georg in the sentiment-laden second act.

However, all the principals get to sing at least one and sometimes two lively solos. Johnson -- who resembles James Stewart (the Georg in the 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner) and has the same Stewart throwaway deference -- is especially inventive on the anticipatory "Tonight at Eight." Grove sings the heartbreaking "Dear Friend" heartbreakingly, and Anderson, Sills, Wolpe, McCormick, and Shin all ring like bells.

When Amalia applies for the job at Maraczek's, she lands her position by enticing a plump customer to buy a music box she says is for candy. Hearing the music, she sings, will discourage ladies from indulging too frequently. That music box with its charming tune is the perfect metaphor for this music box of a show.


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