By Stana Milanovich
L to R: Kevin Shewey, Claire Adams, Avrielle Corti, Darren Bluestone
Photo by John Dlugolecki
If you've seen The Shop Around the Corner or
You've Got Mail, you know the basic premise of the musical
She Loves Me, currently playing at the David Schall Theater. All three works are based upon the 1937 play "Parfumerie" by Miklos Laszlo. Director and cheoreographer Cate Caplin describes it as a "confection" and a "charming jewel box of a romantic comedy" and certainly the set supports this. Done in a gorgeous palette of purples and gold, with quick change walls, multiple doors and transparencies, it is an exquisite place for the actors to play and features a hidden live orchestra which provides a wonderful, music box tone that is echoed in a key prop in the first act.
Set in Hungary in 1934, the period nature of the costuming and the "lonely hearts" letter exchange heightens the confectionary sweetness and the patina of a kindly nostalgia that overhangs much of the performance. And yet...there is enough bitter underbite to give it a bit of edge. Although that can be satisfying, there is also some unevenness in portrayal that turn some diamonds of songs into paste or act like picking your least favorite chocolate out of the box.
One of the strongest aspects of the musical rests in Caplin's choreography. Characters and music twist and intertwine beautifully, particularly in the larger ensemble pieces. "Sounds While Selling" and "Twelve Days of Christmas" are the best examples of this, with the added benefit of being very amusing and in the latter's case placing the musical firmly within holiday offerings.
"A Romantic Atmosphere" which occurs at the end of the first act, strives mightily to provide the best and most slithery example of these wonderfully interwoven comedic ensemble pieces but is almost destroyed by an act of violence which occurs immediately prior. The story tries to incorporate this into some humorously dropped plates but the contrast is so jarring that it was only well into the end of the song that the cast, striving mightily, pulled this reviewer and the audience back into place. That night, Daniel Cho as the beleaguered Head Waiter helped tuck the tone and atmosphere back into place. He has a nice bit with a key-to-the-story rose as well.
Photo by John Dlugolecki
Performances as a whole are very strong, particularly musically. Strongest among these would be Claire Adams as the female lead Amelia Balash, who ends up working under Kevin Shewey's Georg Norwak at the shop to their mutual loathing despite the fact that they both live for the other's anonymous letters. When singing, Adams is so emotionally translucent that it is as if you were hearing the confessions of your best friend. You are right there onstage with the character in her deepest heart and the song is sung spot on. She nails "Vanilla Ice Cream". However, when acting without the benefit of music, her performance flattens appreciably. Perhaps appropriately contrasting this, Shewey is at his best when simply acting on stage and the titular second act song, "She Loves Me" which should be the heighest point for his character and the play, feels almost empty, leaving the frenetic movements of his character onstage and into the audience a desperate push rather than joyous excitation. Fortunately both these things balance out for both players in the delightful "Where's My Shoe", their best interaction.
L to R: Darren Bluestone, Avrielle Corti
Photo by John Dlugolecki
Lea Madd, who was subbing the night I attended, was uniformly excellent in the character of Ilona Ritter, given what could have been just another 'dumb blonde' real heart and motivation while keeping to the joke. Look for "I Resolve" and "A Trip to the Library". Darren Bluestone is always on point in his depiction of the only 'villain' of the piece, the womanizing Steven Kodaly. He maintains focus in a delightful way even when purely background and is a convincing rapscallion. Greg Martin gives as the shop owner Mr. Maraczek a real moment of genuine, wistful, pathos in his reprise of "Days Gone By" and contrasting him with high hopes and youthful spirit Beau Brians gives us an almost over-exaggerated period piece in his depiction of Arpad Laszlo, the delivery boy with aspirations. Tim Hodgin does a lovely job with the cynical but cheerful Ladislav Sipos, and his ode to getting by, "Perspective", is a delight. And if this is an awkward transition of a sentence, the scattering of leaves and snow on the stage used to demonstrate the passage of time is not.
On the whole, this candybox of a musical makes a sweet holiday treat, even if you might like to pick around the coconut ones. It makes an excellent outing.
She Loves Me run thru Dec 16 at the Actors Co-Op David Schall Theatre This is the show's final weekend, with performances Friday - Dec 14 at 8pm, Saturday - December 15 at 2:30 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sunday - December 16 at 2:30 pm. For tickets, visit
www.ActorsCo-op.org or call (323) 462-8460. Actors Co-op David Schall Theatre is located at 1760 N. Gower St. 90028 (on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) in Hollywood.