Theater Review: SHE LOVES ME (Actors Co-op)

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by Tony Frankel on December 5, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles

LITTLE SHOP OF HAPPINESS

I’ll be the first to admit that it may be impossible to create a bad production of the 1963 jewel-box musical She Loves Me. This perfect show, based on the 1937 play Parfumerie by Miklós László, is so resplendent, so charming, and so well-constructed that a 2011 gathering of literati for New York Magazine deemed it one of the best musicals ever written. This must-see, beguiling, gem of a chamber musical will leave you giddy with love, almost as if you gorged on sweet confections but magically had neither stomach ills nor toothache (it has been referred to as the “Ice Cream Musical” after a musical number made famous by original star Barbara Cook).

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.) Their masterpiece gets it right, over and over. It’s as heartbreaking as hilarious, a sweet story seen from all sides. Knowing this, I still had my doubts as to what director and choreographer Cate Caplin could achieve on the tiny Actors Co-op stage. Well, she and her crew quelled all qualms by presenting a delightful rendition, utterly unpretentious and easily adored. From the flawless six-person orchestra conducted by Anthony Lucca to the contagious conviction of seven whimsical principals, Caplin exerts a Midas touch on this jewel box – thank God not a jukebox — musical.

Amalia and Georg, employees at Maraczek’s 1930s’ Hungarian parfumerie, 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).

Since casting is half the battle, finding perfect players for the parts was the first triumph here. Among the clerks, understudy Lea Madda, a saucy minx, delights as love-wary, man-crazy but men-hating Ilona. As proof we should never be afraid of understudies going on, Madda (not pictured here) delivers Ilona’s emancipation anthem “I Resolve” with guts; and her tour-de-force “Trip to the Library,” an entire story in a song, is done with glory. Madda didn’t even blink an eye when her hat hung precariously by a thread during the opening scene. Bravo!

The wryly comical Tim Hodgin effaces himself as sycophantic Sipos, a clerk too desperately useful to be fired. The amazingly watchable Darren Bluestone exudes venality as lady-killer Kodaly, his womanizing singularly palpable in the vaudeville romp “Grand Knowing You.” Greg Martin’s fussbudget owner Mr. Maraczek (lavishing memories on the lovely waltz “Days Gone By”) proves richly eccentric and touchingly vulnerable. Worlds away from his rousing performance in Candlelight’s Bonnie and Clyde, Beau Brians plays delivery boy Arpad Laszlo as hope on wheels; his super-perky audition piece “Try Me” could land him a job anywhere.

Proving that there are no small parts, the perfect perfect perfect Phil Crowley’s vividly droll Headwaiter made “A Romantic Atmosphere” ridiculously entertaining.

Of course, the reluctant lovers are the heart and soul of this peerless production. Captivatingly ordinary, they’re a signal triumph, evoking everyone who craves love hard enough to find it. With goofy grace, Kevin Shewey’s Georg is as good in song as speech, with even his stiffness beguilingly real. Claire Adams, who was astounding in San Diego Rep’s Fun Home, gives us a yearning, heart-hungry Amalia; her perfectly-pitched performance, effortlessly entrancing, is filled with surprising comic touches.

Caplin’s choreography turns “Twelve Days to Christmas” into a high-kicking catalog of every holiday cliché from soup to nutcrackers (it’s amazing that players don’t collide in this intimate space!), while the lead-in to “A Romantic Atmosphere” is the last word in demi-mondaine decadence. Her staging and casting are simply divine.

A Broadway gem just became a Hollywood diamond.

Due to sold out houses, Actors Co-op has added two additional performances, Saturday, December 8 at 2:30 pm and Saturday, December 15 at 2:30 pm.

photos by John Dlugolecki

She Loves Me
Actors Co-op
David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St.
(at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood)
Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 2:30; some Sat’s at 2:30
ends on December 16, 2018
for tickets: 323.462.8460 or Actors Co-op

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