Saturday, September 21, 2013

SHE LOVES ME, a marzipan musical at Beck

Marzipan, is a confection that consists mostly of sugar and honey, with a little solid blended in to give it some body.  This, too, describes the musical SHE LOVES ME.  It’s sweet to the viewing and a delightful treat, with little substance.

SHE LOVES ME, a version of which is now on stage at Beck Center, has a fascinating history that has led to its often being dubbed, “The most charming musical on earth.” 

It started as the 1930’s comedy THE PARFUMERIE, written by Miklos Laszlo.  It morphed into the 1940s movie, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER.  In 1949 it became a Judy Garland, Van Johnson film with the title IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME.  In 1963 Joe Masteroff, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock wrote the presently titled SHE LOVES ME. 

The first Broadway production starred Daniel Massey, Barbara Cook and Jack Cassidy.  It ran 302 performances.  (This was the same year of such smash musicals as BRIGADOON, OLIVER! and PAL JOEY, so when I saw it I dubbed it as “escapist fluff.)  In 1998 the idea was revived as a Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan smash movie, YOU’VE GOT MAIL. 

The major plot line centers on Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash, two unmarried salespeople in a Budapest perfume shop.  They each are searching for love and turn to lonely-hearts ads (the Craigslist of their day).  Each develops a relationship with a pen pal (present time email buddy).  Unbeknownst to each of them is that they are each other’s own “dear friend.”  From the song “Good Morning, Good Day” until “Twelve Days to Christmas,” there are bumps in the road.   And, of course, there is a fairy tale ending.

The old fashioned musical, with its schmaltzy score, contains such songs as “Days Gone By,” “I Don’t Know His Name,” “Will He Like Me,” “Dear Friend,” “Vanilla Ice Cream,” “Grand Knowing You,” and, the title song, “She Loves Me.”  Come on, with a list of song titles like that, don’t expect the power and message of Bock and Harnick’s FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.  It’s more like the writing team’s TENDERLOIN, a “nice musical.”

Audiences should like Beck’s SHE LOVES ME.  There is the love story, complete with a love-hate relationship.  There is a scoundrel, several comic subplots, good singing voices, a well-tuned orchestra (thanks to Larry Goodpaster who generally keeps the instrumentalists under control and support rather than drown out the singers), and some creative choreography by Martin Céspedas.

Scott Spence keeps the action going smoothly, cues the laughs, and helps the actors develop clear characterizations.  Trad Burns has created a workable set, which is difficult to do in the Mackey Theatre due to its lack of fly gallery and wing space.  The wall design of the perfumerie somewhat distracts due to the bold pattern. 

Rebecca Pitcher, with her well trained operatic voice, and well-honed acting skills, creates a strong Amalia.  Jamie Koeth sings and performs well as Georg. 

Aimee Collier lights up the stage with her comic and vocal talents as Ilona, whose search for love takes her into bad romances.  Solon High School junior Brett Castro is charming as Arpad, the delivery boy turned salesman. 

Jonathan Kroenberger stands out as the timid Ladislav.  Matthew Wright sings and well interprets the role of Maraczek, the perfumerie’s owner.  Brian Altman is properly snarly as Kodaly, while Richie Gagen has a cute several moments as a bumbling waiter. 

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If your are a fan of old fashioned, escapist musicals, with pleasant music, performed by a talented cast, you’ll love SHE LOVES ME.

SHE LOVES ME is scheduled to run through October 20 at Beck Center for the Arts.  For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or