Los Angeles Theater Review: SHE LOVES ME (Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities)

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by Tony Frankel on February 25, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles


I’ll be the first to admit that it may be impossible to create a bad production of the 1963 musical She Loves Me; this perfect show, based on the 1937 play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo, is so resplendent, so charming, and so well-constructed that a recent gathering of literati for New York Magazine deemed it one of the best musicals ever written.

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Knowing this, I still had my doubts as to what a Civic Light Opera could achieve, as they tend to cast people they already know and can incorporate non-seasoned performers alongside professionals with mixed results. Well, director Stephanie A. Coltrin and her crew quelled all qualms by presenting a delightful rendition at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Even with some unevenness in the performances, this is a must-see Valentine of a show that will leave you giddy with love, almost as if you gorged on sweet confections but magically had neither stomach ills nor toothache.

Amalia (Susannah Hall) and Georg (Jason Webb) are two employees in Maraczek’s Parfumerie, who take an immediate dislike to each other. After work, they find solace in writing to their respective lonely-hearts-club pen pals – of course, neither suspects that the person they love on paper is the same person they detest on the job. If the story sounds familiar already, you may know it from the film adaptations of the play: The Shop Around The Corner (1940), In The Good Old Summertime (1949), and You’ve Got Mail (1998).

She Loves Me 2Miss Hall presents Amalia as capricious and irrational in the first act – character choices which surreptitiously hide her vulnerability. Although it takes a little fizzle out of her big number, “Ice Cream” (when she is supposed to surprise us with her unexpected flightiness), her emotional defenselessness towards the end is very satisfying. Plus, she has a lovely voice. Mr. Webb is Georg, all flustered and adorable. He has an enchanting voice, so why did he needlessly punch some of the lines in his songs?

She Loves Me (Sheldon Harnick: lyrics, and Jerry Bock: music) contains numbers which not only feed the plot, but are character-driven as well; it is no accident that the following year (1964) they would premiere a little thing called Fiddler on the Roof. (Bookwriter Joe Masteroff’s next project was another little thing called Cabaret.) All of the co-workers at the Parfumerie get a chance to shine: Lesli Margherita is a dazzling powerhouse as the clerk Ilona (belting “I Resolve” with tenacity) who is duped by her paramour, the salesman Kodaly. In the role of Kodaly, Mark Edgar Stephens brings just the right amount of unctuousness to “Grand Knowing You,” but he could add some power to his pitch-perfect pipes. Todd Nielson is sensational as the non-confrontational, yes-man Sipos – his song, “Perspective” (also the theme of the overture) is a highlight of the evening.

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Young delivery boy Arpad is played with an interesting combination of youthful zeal and daintiness by Ryland Dodge. Rounding out the cast in the shop is John Hall as the suspicious proprietor, Mr. Maraczek. Proving that there are no small parts, Mark Oka was so vividly droll as the Headwaiter that “A Romantic Atmosphere” became ridiculously entertaining. The chorus, a fantastic assemblage of triple-threat performers, supported Mr. Oka (and the entire show) quite well, especially the amazing dancer Ramone Owens, who executed Heather Castillo’s frantically funny choreography with aplomb.

Some of the costumes (Christa Armendariz) – especially the men’s suits – appear to be a little off the rack, and the women’s dresses are an interesting combination of Guys and Dolls and The Sound of Music. The Hungarian Parfumerie set (Christopher Beyries) works quite well, but it is the props around the store which dazzle the eye; the snowfall is a lovely touch as well.

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Coltrin’s staging of “Twelve Days to Christmas” is positively spectacular. She may not have assembled a pitch perfect cast, but whatever the unevenness, as a whole, the performances serve the evening well. So does Daniel Gary Busby and his terrific orchestra (acknowledging the financial constraints of a CLO, it’s a shame that we couldn’t have a larger and more muscular accompaniment).

Whether I have seen it polished or shaky – from an amateur high school performance in 1983 (where a pubescent tenor squeaked more than sang), to the Broadway revival in 1993, to Reprise’s minimal but astoundingly well-cast outing in 2003, to this imperfectly perfect jewel of a night with the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities, I have never walked away from She Loves Me less than uplifted, inspired and deeply satisfied.

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photos by Alysa Brennan

She Loves Me
Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities
Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center
ends on March 6, 2011
for tickets, visit the Performing Arts Center

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