Performing Arts

There’s a lot to admire in Musical Theatre Heritage’s production of ‘She Loves Me’

Lauren Braton leads the cast of “She Loves Me,” about warring shop clerks who don’t realize they’re in love with each other.
Lauren Braton leads the cast of “She Loves Me,” about warring shop clerks who don’t realize they’re in love with each other. Musical Theater Heritage

Shorn of spectacle (sets, stage trickery, big production numbers), Musical Theatre Heritage’s productions pare down musical theater to its essentials. It’s a chance to get past distractions and concentrate on a musical’s essential soul.

Sometimes you find an overlooked charmer.

“She Loves Me” has quite the pedigree. It began as a prewar Hungarian stage play, became the 1940 hit movie “The Shop Around the Corner” (with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan), and was remade as a Judy Garland/Van Johnson musical (“In the Good Old Summertime”),

This MTH production is the 1963 Broadway adaptation with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joe Masteroff. Even more recently we had the 1988 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film version, “You’ve Got Mail.”

“She Loves Me” isn’t often produced. Its somewhat eccentric score (lots of Slavic themes, ’30s European pop sounds, even a waltz or two) lacks a signature hummer and the intimate story it tells is short on big splashy moments.

But in this tale of love among the employees of a Budapest perfume and cosmetics shop there are myriad opportunities for a talented cast, and the players in the MTH production deliver again and again.

The plot centers on two antagonistic co-workers. Georg (Patrick Beasley) and the newly hired Amalia (Lauren Braton, possessor of a near-operatic voice) are like oil and water. What they don’t realize is that for some weeks they’ve been romantic — and anonymous — pen pals, writing each other such soul-baring missives that each has been hopelessly smitten.

Elsewhere in the shop the egocentric and vaguely smarmy Kodaly (T. Eric Morris) has been wooing — and cheating on — the dumb blondish Ilona (a scene-stealing Katie Bartow).

The proprietor, Mr. Maraczek (Andy Garrison), is having marital problems of his own. The bearded Ladislav (Joshua Baum) wants to be everybody’s friend and, by the way, keep his job, while delivery boy Arpad (Fisher Stewart) wants desperately to move up the ladder to shop clerk. (He also displays some jaw-dropping acrobatic skills).

What’s remarkable about the Harnick/Bock score is that every cast member gets his or her standout musical moment — so many of them that in retrospect it seems as if nobody talked in this show. They were always singing.

Even members of the ensemble get a chance to shine, like Evan Lovelace who late in Act 1 appears as the very sophisticated and somewhat jaded headwaiter at a cabaret catering to romantic liaisons. He nails it.

Director Sarah Crawford displays an uncanny ability to create complex action on the theater’s tiny stage, and in a couple of instances delivers sprawling musical moments — talk about turning a few bodies into an on-stage army.

On a similar note, the seven-person band (led by keyboardist Jeremy Watson) sounds like a much bigger ensemble.

Read freelancer Robert W. Butler's movie reviews at ButlersCinemaScene.com.

On stage

“She Loves Me” continues through April 9 at Musical Theater Heritage in Crown Center. For more information, call 816-221-6987 or go to MTHKC.org.

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