Theatre Review: “She Loves Me” @ Center Rep, 09/07

It’s adorable. It’s darling. It’s cute. It’s a musical theatre version of a chick-flick movie. After all, She Loves Me is based on the play, Parfumerie, by Miklos Laszlo which also inspired the more well-known Jimmy Stewart movie, “The Shop Around the Corner”. Then in the 90’s it was remade into the ultimate chick-flick starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in “You’ve Got Mail”.  It’s the same story and there’s not much more than that, except a few songs that got thrown in for the supporting roles. Center Rep’s production of She Loves Me is delightfully charming.

Robert Barry Fleming’s direction is polished and well-planned out, down right to the quick scene changes. It wasn’t a surprise that he also choreographed the production as well. The movement flowed so seamlessly from scene to scene. I loved how Fleming used movement in the some of the funniest parts of the show — the old lady taking her time to close the door as they sang goodbye was hysterical. I was in stitches. I also loved the zealous violin player in “A Romantic Atmosphere”, though I was a little taken a back by the sudden dance break in that song. It felt misplaced, but I’m not sure if that was the choreography or the writing of the show – probably the latter. It really was the only “dance break” in the show and didn’t feel in context with the rest of the piece, in an otherwise seamless production.

While the first act was cute and charming, I never felt the intensity that I felt in the second act. After intermission, it was almost a different show. The performances in the second act were filled with honest intent and the characters became very engaging. Jason Hite (Arpad Laszlo) opened the second act with confidence and made the best of a small role and fun song, “Try Me”. It turned out to be a very endearing sub-plot when Hite was made clerk in the final scene. I absolutely loved Brittany Ogle (Ilona Ritter) when she sang “A Trip to the Library”. (This was one of those “thrown-in for supporting roles” songs.) Ogle, while strong throughout the entire production, really killed this song. A perfect interpretation. “Vanilla Ice Cream”, one of the more famous songs in the show, was beautifully sung by the lead, Amalia Balish (Kelsey Venter). Even the ensemble was featured well in “Twelve Days to Christmas” as each verse got more manic in tempo and choreography. I especially liked watching Emma Goldin in the ensemble. All of her different characters were so interesting to watch and her stage presence was fantastic. Noel Anthony’s (Steven Kodaly) “Grand Knowing You” was also equally as impressive.

The relationship between the two leads, Amalia Balish (Kelsey Venter) and Georg Nowack (Ryan Drummond), wasn’t 100% believable but individually the performances were extremely strong. It became a little odd when they got together at the end but you didn’t care too much because it was gushing cuteness.

The set, designed by Annie Smart, was beautiful and definitely had the air of European charm and sleekness. The musical direction by Brandon Adams was also extremely well-done. The first violin (either Pamela Carey or Heghine Boloyan – it doesn’t delineate in the program) was absolutely stunning. That opening violin solo was exquisite. The small pit, made out of eight musicians, sounded wonderful.

She Loves Me is a welcomed journey back to the golden age of musicals. While, it’s not one of my favorite golden-age musicals, it’s premise and characters are perfectly charming in every way. It becomes an delightfully delectable evening filled with romance, lovely music and a lot of ice cream. It was my first time to Center Rep and I’ll definitely be back.

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