She Loves Me, book by Joe Masteroff, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Music by Jerry Bock, based on a play by Miklos Laszlo. Directed by Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Marc de la Concha as Sipos, Michael McCorry Rose as George, David Girard as Kodaly; photo: Rebecca Haizmann
"No one was younger in days gone by."
Julia Burrows as Amalia, Michael McCorry Rose as George; photo: Rebecca Haizmann
We live in a world half illusion and half self-delusion. This is the world of Vienna in the late 1930s, the world of art nouveau with its luscious curves in architecture and design that make the viewer think of beautiful, curvaceous women, of all things soft and supple and pliable. This is a world of casual affairs for men and violent acts for women. This is the world of perfume and music boxes and jealousies spouted in half-truths and sprouted in windowsill-boxes.
This is the world of Amalia Balish and George Nowack, of Ilona Ritter and Steven Kodaly, of Arpad and Sipos and the world where waiters believe the dreams they serve on silver trays and store owners remember the romances of their youth while wallowing in the betrayals of the present. This is the world of "She Loves Me" - the Bock and Harnick musical version of "The Shop Around the Corner." In 1963 it was the world of Barbara Cook, Daniel Massey, Barbara Baxley, Jack Cassidy, Ralph Williams, Nathaniel Frey and Ludwig Donath. I was there and witnessed that world for the first time, fell in love with the show, the characters, the players. It was exactly the same for me last year on Broadway and I am still in love with it all at Capital Repertory in Albany, NY where a new production is settling in for a month's run.
Like any good confection there is much butter and sugar in the mix, sentimentality and romance. The unlikely lovers meet cute when Amalia, in need of a job, assumes the function she aspires to, makes a sale and embarrasses George,her future boss. Romance is off to a rocky start. Meanwhile Ilona and Kodaly dally whenever possible, though his split attentions frustrate her to the enth degree. Averse as I am to sugar, why this show always moves me escapes me. I just feel it all the way from one impossible moment to another. Part of that here in Albany is how the cast present themselves in these roles.
Under the intelligent and sensitive direction of Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill the principal quartet, the two couples, make it all seem as though we are watching them in real time. There is a definite realism in their playing, a sense of catching them in moments in time that are not acted but lived. Tracy Jai Edwards uses everything she has in the role of Ilona, body, voice, muscle-tone, hair, convincing us that she is Ilona and a miracle of time-travel has given us a perspective on her in that place and time. She is little short of miraculous in the part. Every reaction feels emotionally perfect and registers as a thump of the heart.
The same goes for Kevin McGuire as Mr. Maraczek whose jealousy overtakes him gradually but surely, and causes mistakes that are near-fatal. He brings an utter honesty to his work here that imbues Maraczek with a delicately finessed degree of decision that hurts like a glove popped across a chilled cheek in the late autumn sunshine. David Girard brings a smarmy set of looks and movements to his Kodaly that feels more like spirit channeling than acting.
Jimmy Bain's youthful presence is as refreshing as a cool breeze off a lake in summer. His enthusiastic "Try Me" in Act Two felt more like an unstoppable boy than it did a song. Adam B. Shapiro as the headwaiter gave an unusual resonance to the character's normally modest insults. His abuse of Joshua DeMarco's busboy was balanced by the young actor's exaggerated, but truthful, reactions. Best of all there was the Sipos of Marc de la Concha who brought new nuances into and out of his songs, particularly "Perspective" in which he defined his place in the greater range of human dynamics.
Kevin McGuire as Maraczek; photo: Rebecca Haizmann
Tracy Jai Edwards as Ilona, Jimmy Bain as Sipos; photo: Rebecca Haizmann
But the show still rests on the simple humanity of Amalia and George. What I liked best about Julia Burrows' Amalia was the unexaggerated reactions set off in her by Michael McCorry Rose's George. From first to last I felt what she felt, early attraction and instant disdain, then disgust and repudiation, and finally growing emotional attachment. I responded to her wistful and wishful neediness. I believed in her growth and her love - needed and expressed.
Rose, on the other hand, brought the manliness of instant decisions to the forefront of his interpretation of George. Every moment was solid for him. Every emotion he felt was clarified by a previous moment. Once he knew what he wanted and said what he wanted in the title song Rose's growing hero became a figure of romance personified. I've seen other Georges and I've never seen one this well-defined before.
For everyone involved in this show the human overwhelmed the caricature or type. Freddy Ramirez's dance routines only added to the focus of the characters rather than distracting us. Brian Prather's simple and functional sets worked well, as did Evan Prizant's late '30s costumes (prettier than a 1934 or even 1937 look would have been). The lighting was always subtle and soft, as it should be in a romantic musical, and the sound design and balance by Rider Q. Stanton was excellent. Under the leadership of Josh D. Smith the small musical ensemble played almost to perfection.
The recent revival with TV stars in the leading roles can be seen on television and it's awfully good, but to truly experience the magic and the emotional release in this play you should see it live and in person at Cap Rep. Their work is exquisite and you'll be grateful for this opportunity.
"Twelve Days to Christmas. . ."; photo: Rebecca Haizmann
She Loves Me plays at Capital Rep, 111 North Pearl Street, Albany, NY through December 24. For information or tickets go on line at capitalrep.org or call (518) 445-SHOW (7469).