On the heels of last year’s Broadway revival, which was the first Broadway production to be live streamed in theaters around the country, The Barn Players have mounted their own production of She Loves Me which opened Friday. This musical is based on a 1937 Hungarian play Parfumerie. That play and this musical also were the inspiration for the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie You’ve Got Mail. In fact, before the musical the play had been adapted into 2 different movies. The Shop Around the Corner in 1940 with James Stewart and In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland. So why so many adaptations? Because the play, and this musical, is a lot of fun and has some great characters.
The action takes place in 1930’s Budapest around Maraczek’s Parfumerie, an upscale store that caters to female clientele who are looking for ways to look younger and more beautiful. The employees provide impeccable service, welcome each customer and sing a catchy tune every time a customer exits the store. The clerks are distinctly different, from the comedic Ladislav Sipos (Mark Murphy) who doesn’t want to make waves, to the suave and dapper Steven Kodaly (Steven Ansel). Georg Nowack (Brian Shortess) is the shy and diligent assistant manager who is looking for love with his pen pal (thus the AOL connection from the movie) with his “Dear Friend” whom he has never met but is smitten with.
Enter Amalia Balash (Krista Eyler), a recently laid off clerk of a closing competitor’s store who is looking for a job. Immediately there is conflict between Georg and Amalia as she goes over his head and gets hired by Mr. Maraczek (Craig Aikman). This sets them up for a tumultuous relationship. She, too, has a “Dear Friend” who as is turns out, is none other than Georg. This sets the comedic stage as the audience is let in on this before the actors as the plot, and comedy, thickens.
To spice things up, the sassy Ilona Ritter (Jessica Alcorn) is sneaking around, although not very successfully, with Kodaly. Even Arpad (Christoph Nevins) the delivery boy knows whats going on, but that just adds to the fun.
There are a number of nice plot twists that propel both the comedy and the heart of this show. It is very well written with some memorable songs. All the actors do a great job, but I felt that Aikman’s Maraczek fell short on the more dramatic parts. I would have liked to have seen a greater depth as he carries the dramatic parts on which the show hinges. The comedy is abundant. Eyler’s Amalia plays the confident in business yet insecure in love perfectly. For the most part, she and Shortness do a great job with love/hate relationship, but fell a bit shy of the sexual tension that should have been there.
Alcorn’s Ilona has great bubbly energy and her snubbing of Kodaly is priceless. She and Ansel play well off each other and created some very funny moments as he tries to woo her back in the song “Ilona”. Joell Ramsdell plays the Waiter with excellent comic timing. It’s a crucial role as Nowac discovers his “Dear Friend” is Amalia. Murphy’s Sipos has a number of stand out moments and his comedic timing was spot on. Lastly, Nevin’s Arpad was enjoyable, but fell a bit short in his song “Try Me” as he tries to convince Maraczek he is ready to be a clerk. There wasn’t quite the urgency that would have pushed it to the next level.
It also makes a big difference when the ensemble is committed to their characters. Here they successfully created a variety of different characters that added to the comedy and the sweetness in this intimate setting. I loved how they also brought some personality to the scene changes with the ensemble interacting with each other in mini vignettes as they moved pieces on and off.
Director Kipp Simmons chose to do this show in the round and it works extremely well. There is no need for lavish sets and it creates a more intimate experience for the audience. He makes use of the five entrances and exits extremely well and even places the actors in the aisles at time. He also inspired the actors to find the comedy throughout.
While often there is some significant dancing in this show, it’s not a prerequisite and this production doesn’t focus on the dance as much. Choreographer Valerie Martin plays to the casts strengths and limitations. She creates some enjoyable dance numbers that fold nicely into the theater in the round setting and does a wonderful job with the dining room scene for “A Romantic Atmosphere”.
Paul Secor Morel’s music direction was strong. The cast all sounded great. The show uses a live orchestra, which is always a perk for a musical. It can really add to the experience. However, the off stage orchestra was brought in through the sound system and tended to overpower the voices in the audio mix. This made it difficult to hear all the lyrics and to enjoy the voices and nuances of the performers. As much of the lyrics move the story, it also detracts from following the plot. I also felt the tempo’s were somewhat slow overall. They were more indicative of the original 1963 Broadway than the 90’s revival.
This is a fun show, with a great cast. If you are a fan of the show or just want a fun night out, go fall in love with She Loves Me. It plays through Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2 through May 7th. Click here for tickets and more details.