Friday, November 9, 2012
Theater review: Become enamored with She Loves Me at Stage West Theatre
Love in the '30s was usually pronounced by snail mail.
FORT WORTH She Loves Me, currently being performed at Stage West Theatre in Fort Worth, is the fifth adaptation of the play Parfumerie by playwright Miklos Laszlo. Other adaptations of this show include The Shop Around the Corner with James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan, and The Judy Garland and Van Johnson musical version, In the Good Old Summertime. Most of us may be more familiar with the more recent film version, You've Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
The adaptation being performed at Stage West Theatre places the story in Europe. More specifically, the story takes place in Budapest, Hungary in a time period that was before Internet, instant messaging, Skype, cell phones or Facebook. This was a time period in which people communicated, and sometimes mis-communicated, face to face or by writing actual letters that were sent through the mail to each other, Dear Friend to Dear Friend.
Every comedy has some conflict and this light-hearted comedy had several to create the comedy that included mistaken identity and emotional conflicts expressed through songs such as "Tonight at Eight," "I Don't Know His Name," "Will he Like Me?" "I Resolve," "Where's My Shoe?" and many more.
Sitting in the audience, listening to the interlude being played and setting the mood for the opening of the show, I found myself looking around at the set and lighting. This was when I noticed someone in the balcony playing what looked like a piano or keyboard. Looking more closely, I saw four members of an orchestra playing live music. After the show started, and when I could take my eyes from the stage, I saw that all of the music for the songs was very impressively played by the four person orchestra of Aimee Hurst Bozarth, Rebecca Rathbun, Rex Bozarth, and Joey Carter.
Jason Domm as set designer/technical director and Justin Rhoads as scenic painter, combined very impressive talents to create a set that had a European flair and was throughout the show both artistic and functional, transforming from the inside of a store, to a restaurant, the inside of an apartment, back to the inside of a store, and finally the outside. All of these locations were very artfully and efficiently created with the placement or removal of a few set or property pieces.
Michael Robinson of the Dallas Costume Shoppe designed and provided the costumes for this show. Having an affinity for double-breasted suits and clothing styles of the 1930s, I noted and appreciated the detail of the styling for the men's suits as well as the detail of the clothing for the female characters. Sometimes it is easy to overlook the small details of women's clothing of that time period. Not so in this show. The styling of the dresses, shoes, hats and even the gloves were period perfect.
Act One opens with each of the workers in the store, meeting outside of the store and singing the opening number, "Good Morning, Good Day." This upbeat song created the energy that continued through most of the show. "Sounds While Selling" was one of many examples of the fun and intricate choreography created by Suzi Mclaughlin and performed literally like clock-work by the members of the ensemble.
Mr. Maraczek, the store owner played by Jerry Russell, is more mature in years than his employees. Yet he has a spring in his step, cheerfulness and energy that is contagious for his employees. Russell may not have had as strong or sophisticated vocals as the younger actors, however, when he sang "Days Gone By," we had the firm impression of an older man, made more youthful through his love and happiness with his younger wife. This made it more touching when he sang "Maraczek's Memories" in what sounds like a broken, sad voice in Act Two. Russell brought a character that was polished and complete. Ilona, performed by Chelsea Coyne, is a sexy, hopeful and sometimes playful romantic. Coyne was fully engaged in each scene. Her interactions with other characters on stage were solid and kept my attention. The duet, "I Don't Know His Name" with Alison Hodgson as Amalia, and her solo, "A Trip To the Library" showed her considerable talents as an actor and vocalist.
Steven Kodaly, played by Scott Sutton, is perpetually happy and cheerful, regardless of circumstances. Whether he is successfully selling perfume, flirting with the customers or trying to date a co-worker, the term "full of himself" would be a good way to describe the character and is well-exemplified with his song and dance routine "Grand Knowing You." Sutton, brings an attitude to the character that uses affectations such as an almost constant raised eyebrow, a slight knowing smirk and a smooth approach that sometimes reminded me of a guy that always expects to get the woman to say yes.
Joseph Keith Wilson as Arpad, brought a youthful character that was full of energy, ambition and always helpful. Arpad is the delivery boy that wants to grow up and become a full sales clerk. Wilson really put his heart and soul into his song "Try Me," as Arpad attempts to convince Maraczek to promote him to being a clerk in the store. While Wilson's vocals were not polished, his enthusiasm carried him through.
Brian Mathis' Ladislav Sipos was the stabilizing character in the store. Ladislav is always smiling and never seems to take any adversity personally. A perfect example of this is when Ladislav subtly intervenes in a conflict between Maraczek and Georg by "accidentally" knocking over a stack of musical boxes. When Maraczek exits, Ladislav explains to Georg his perspective on life through the song, appropriately titled "Perspective." Mathis had a rich vocal quality to his voice and a smooth yet animated acting style that worked to present a character with more to him than seems at first glance.
Cameron McElyea was very well cast as Georg Nowak. He perfectly played Nowak as unassuming yet confident. McElyea brings acting choices that create a Nowak that is dedicated to his job as the assistant to Maraczek, trusted and well liked by everyone that works in the store. The special thing about this character is that he does not try to be special. In this, McElyea trusted his abilities and the director's choices to develop a Nowak that is an average guy that works hard and has dedicated his life to his job. The one thing missing in his life is love and romance. He joins a lonely hearts club and begins writing letters to a "Dear Friend." McElyea did good work presenting Nowak as a non-assuming yet competent character who is confident at work yet not in trying to find love. This was demonstrated in his song, "Tonight at Eight." Later we see the transition to more confidence in his song, "She Loves Me." Where many actors may want to be noticed while on stage, McElyea succeeds in his ability to bring a character that is so non-assuming, that he is always noticed and empathized with.
Alison Hodgson brought to her character, Amalia Balash, one that is lively, confident, ambitious, and a good sales clerk. Amalia is confident in everything that she does at work. She confides to her co-workers that she has a "Dear Friend" that she is in love with. Through songs such as "Will He Like Me?" "I Don't Know His Name," "Where's My Shoe?" and "Vanilla Ice Cream," Hodgson took me on a very emotional journey with her acting and confident vocals. In the scene in which Georg comes to her apartment, Amalai is alternately defensive and verbally attacking, then, finally, thoughtful and tender. All of this was played slightly over-the-top but very fitting for the character and scene.
Peter DiCesare as the waiter in the restaurant brings fun and energy to a scene that was wonderfully choreographed and staged. Strolling through the restaurant at times acting like cupid and other like a Napoleon. He chastised wait staff and patrons that did not seem to meet the expectations of a place that is a rendezvous. Through most of the scene, he comes across as a non-caring, enforcer of expectations. However, at the end of the scene, DiCesare, brings that special tender moment to the scene that thoughtfully saves Amalia's feelings and directly continuous the plot of the story.
The ensemble absolutely needs to be recognized. They were not merely background characters. They were an integral part of many of the scenes, whether it is as customers coming into the store or as diners in the restaurant. Scenes of customers coming into the store were all choreographed and executed extremely well. Despite having very few lines, each of the actors on stage was fully engaged in the scene, making them that much more fun to watch.
Whether you are a hopeful romantic, hopeless romantic, non-romantic, or a confirmed cynic about love and romance, this show will have you smiling, sometimes outright laughing, feeling empathy for the characters, maybe even sympathy for the characters, but never apathy. She Loves Me has a somewhat predictable plot. But it is a fun, light-hearted musical comedy with the quality of acting, vocals, choreography and music to keep you engaged with the performance and leave you with a smile and maybe a warm fuzzy feeling.
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