“She Loves Me” is a Sweet Sampler of a Musical by Marty Fugate

“She Loves Me” is set in a perfume shop. It might as well be a candy shop. This sweet, Whitman’s Sampler of a musical is the latest Players production. Joe Masteroff wrote the script; Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick created the music and lyrics.

The action unfolds in Budapest in 1938 — just a few years before the Nazis rearranged the neighborhood. The plot—well, you probably already know it. The musical’s based on a Hungarian play that inspired a host of movies, including “The Shop Around the Corner” and “You’ve Got Mail.” In case you missed them, here goes:

Thanks to a lonely hearts club ad, two anonymous pen pals start writing each other love letters. Georg (Matthew M. Ryder) and Amalia (Michelle Anaya) don’t realize they’re working in the same parfumerie—and they can’t stand each other in person. (As any pop psychologist will tell you, unacknowledged attraction is the source of this hostility.) Do they fail to meet and die loveless and alone? Woulda depressing story be this popular? You decide.

 

These epistolary lovebirds are the main attraction, but the peripheral characters have their own stories. There’s Kodaly (Peter Salefsky), a womanizer who plays with the affections of Ilona (Sue Cole); Maraczek (Bob Turoff), the shop owner who knows his wife’s cheating on him but blames the wrong person — namely Georg; Ladislav (Ken Basque), who prefers workplace humiliation to unemployment; and Arpad (A.J. Cali), the ambitious delivery boy. All that, and a host of shoppers who bustle in from time to time — and always get a song from the clerks before they leave.

Bob Trisolini’s brisk direction offers glimpses in the intersecting lives of these characters in busy Budapest. His approach implies a larger cosmopolitan world around them. Trisolini also co-choreographed the production with Vanessa Russo. As a result, the fast-paced physical comedy and bits of business blend seamlessly with the actual dance numbers.

Anaya and Ryder show real chemistry. While they’re both excellent singers, Anaya is a stand-out. She gets a chance to shine on several numbers, particularly “Dear Friend.” The talented actor/singers in this large-cast production all put their hearts in it, and strike the right balance between romance and comedy under Trisolini’s direction.

Musical director Teresa O’Connell and a small, unseen orchestra do a great job with the catchy, memorable songs by Bock and Harnick—the team behind “Fiddler on the Roof.” Jeff Weber’s versatile sets and Jared Walker’s costumes nicely evoke the time and place without screaming “period.”

This sweet, warm, funny and loving musical is bourgeoisie to its core—and I mean that in a good way. Hungary at the time was flanked by thugs to the east and west planning fresh atrocities in the name of Nation, Blood, Race, History, Revolution and other upper-case abstractions. The people of “She Loves Me” were concerned with love, work, friends and family—all the lower-case realities that make up daily life.

You’ll enjoy meeting these characters—and appreciate the simple pleasures of your daily life even more when the musical is done.

Originally published on YourObserver.com.