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If you’re looking for an evening of pure romantic, comedic escapism, then look no further than Wake Forest University Department of Theatre & Dance's production of She Loves Me, now running at Scales Fine Arts Center on the WFU campus.
The delightfully frothy tale of secret and mistaken identities, the joy of reading, and the eternal quest for true love began life as a play, Parfumerie, by Hungarian playwright Miklós László in 1937. James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan starred in a film version, The Shop Around the Corner, in 1940.
She Loves Me, the musical with a book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and music by Jerry Bock, had its Broadway debut in 1963, was revived in 1993, and played recently in 2016 with Jane Krakowski as the lovelorn Ilona.
A workplace comedy about the lives of ordinary people, She Loves Me sweeps us into a parfumerie in Budapest, Hungary in the 1930s and completely involves us in the life and loves of the shop clerks and their boss.
The set, designed by Rob Eastman-Mullins, must be noted right away. It’s one of those sets that gets applause for just being there. Stylistically detailed on a rotating stage, scene changes are done in full view. Lighting design by Kevin Frazier enhances the dreamlike quality of some of the scenes, and costumes by Mary Wayne-Thomas move well in the dancing scenes and keep us grounded in the period. The sound by Jeff Sherwood is fine and balanced.
In the opening scene, the beautiful day, is noted ("Good Morning, Good Day") by Ladislav Sipos (Evan Souza), a clerk who keeps his job by keeping his head down, and Arpad Laszlo (Yaser Salamah), the ambitious delivery boy.
Souza was a wonderful, physical comic, using his expressive hands like props in the song "Perspective," in which Ladislav advises a colleague to go along to get along. The show is full of physical comedy and great comedic timing by all.
In Act II, Salamah shone in "Try Me." Arpad ardently sings to his boss, begging to be seen as more than a delivery boy, and the way he sells the song shows how he can sell perfume.
In a subplot, Ilona Ritter (Frances Gray Riggs) is a young woman in love with love and, unfortunately for her, with the two-timing Steven Kodaly, played with just the right amount of smarminess by R.J. Pratt.
The two have a deliciously seductive duet, a rumba, "Ilona," in which Kodaly woos Ilona back after he has disappointed her. In this number, we start to see Nina Lucas-Rice’s marvelous choreography unfold. Riggs moved like a dream with high kicks and swiveling hips, and Lucas-Rice’s clever choreography made even the non-dancers in the show look good.
Then, in "I Resolve," Riggs showed that she can sing as well as she dances, as Ilona promises not to be so "dumb," among other things.
At the center of all the action among clerks and customers are the young lovers. Known to the audience but unknown to them, Georg Nowack (Christopher John Quiroz) and Amalia Balash (Adarian M. Sneed) have been carrying on a secret correspondence.
Sneed and Quiroz did a convincing job as Georg and Amalia, who clash relentlessly in the workplace, not realizing that each is the other’s "Dear Friend," pen pals through lonely-hearts ads.
Crisp and efficient on the job, Sneed revealed her romantic and vulnerable side in "I Hope He Likes Me" and "Vanilla Ice Cream." Sneed has a lovely voice and great presence on stage and was very funny on "Where’s My Shoe?"
After months of churlish behavior at work, Georg shows a little tenderness by bringing Amalia ice cream when she is sick and offering to lend her a favorite book. He has discovered that she is his secret "Dear Friend," and is dropping subtle hints about his identity. Quiroz was boyishly appealing and had some great moves in the song "She Loves Me."
Alexander Friedel played the boss, Mr. Maraczek, with a formality that masked the character's longing for his lost youth and his own floundering love life. Friedel brought a lot of sympathy to Maraczek and was delightful in his duet with Quiroz, "Days Gone By," dancing the younger man around the shop floor.
In "A Romantic Atmosphere," a big production number, most of the cast danced up a storm. Everybody dazzled in Lucas-Rice’s choreography, which gives nods to tangos and Hungarian folk dances.
Ellie Howell, as the Head Waiter, and Zac Anderson, as the beleaguered busboy, were hilarious both together and apart. The Head Waiter is desperately trying to maintain "A Romantic Atmosphere," but the busboy and customers are pushing the bounds of propriety into chaos. Nathaniel Avery, Chris Cates, Katharine Collie, Patrick Fenlon, Ray Gao, Elsa Maurizi, Molly Olson, Nora Resk, Sky Shi, Chenqi Wang, and Cami Wilson round out the ensemble.
The music throughout is buoyant and cheery with a repeating chorus of "Thank you, madam, please call again. Do call again, madam" that ties it all together in perfect harmony.
It’s a show to get you tapping your toes and thinking that spring might finally get here, after all, along with true love and brighter days.
She Loves Me continues through Sunday, April 10. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.