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I don't need to see his handsome profile,
I don't need to see his manly frame,
All I need to know is in each letter,
Each long revealing letter,
I couldn't know him better,
If I knew his name.
– Amalia Balash, She Loves Me
A bookmark rose, poetic stationary anonymously penned, and the lingering perfume of a lover’s hope is more than enough to erect romance in any atmosphere. This is especially evident with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts production of She Loves Me, which charms and delights. The show, affectionately considered “the perfect musical” by theatre aficionados, truly is comedic romanticism at its purest.
Although perhaps “perfect” may be a bit of an accentuation, the show certainly has an iconic lineage. Adapted from the 1937 play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszio, the timeless story has seen many incarnations through the years. There have been three major Hollywood films such as 1940’s The Shop Around The Corner, the 1949 Judy Garland musical In The Good Old Summertime, and mostly recently 1998’s You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. She Loves Me, however, debuted to Broadway audiences in 1963, a creation of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, the masterminds behind Fiddler on the Roof.
Set in 1935, the premise depicts the interconnected happenings of a successful perfume boutique in Budapest. At the epicenter are Amalia and Georg, two quarreling sales clerks by day, venomous in their rapport, which unbeknownst to each other, fall in love via secret evening correspondence.
What the cast may have lacked in authentic romantic chemistry, they more than made up for with dedicated acting and vocal ability. Mary Kate Harris as the ambitious and opinionated Amalia was captivating. She was able to command strength from her petite frame, while her soprano voice was tender and at times vulnerable. Harris’s show stopping “Will He Like Me” was delivered with such delicateness that a rush of nerves and butterflies painted the audience in her anticipation.
Gus Halper proved to be quite the exceptional young actor as Georg Nowack. There was a natural approach to Halper’s execution of dialogue. His dedication to the character shone in numbers such as the high energy “Tonight at Eight” (watch for the well-crafted stage fall), and the confidence-building, mid-tempo ballad “She Loves Me.”
The show’s material is quite generous across the board to its characters, but especially for the supporting ones, which in the hands of such capable performers can be fleshed out and individually showcased. Lauren Karaman as lovable and relationship-challenged Ilona Ritter nailed every line and note with moments that were laugh out loud funny, particularly “A Trip to the Library.” Max Stampa-Brown played the young delivery boy/sales clerk hopeful with charm and enthusiasm in “Try Me.”
However, a few crucial components for the success of this production lie greatly in the visual triumphs of scenic designer Jaclyn Meloni and Lighting designer Christopher Annas-Lee. Meloni’s immensely detailed construction of vibrant colors and curved lines highlight the Art Nouveau style of the period. The set maintains its elegance as it transitions convincingly from perfumery to café and so on. The pièce de résistance is the faux leadlight awning that slightly obstructs the view of the second level platform where the orchestra sits backlit with blues and persimmon orange. The theatricality of the set, lighting, and orchestra is enough alone to suffice the sentiment of the evening.
The University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ production of She Loves Me has no shortage of the love – cliché intended – and romances the audience every step of the way.
She Loves Me continues through Sunday, November 24. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.