“She Loves Me” has to be one of the most good-natured musicals that’s ever been written. Fauquier Community Theatre’s new production of the show fully makes good on the story’s gentle promise with a lovingly crafted staging featuring deeply felt performances.
Audience members are likely to be familiar with the most recent incarnation of the story, You’ve Got Mail. The movie about email pen pals took its source material from Miklos Laszlo’s 1930’s play, “Parfumerie,” later adapted into the film Shop Around the Corner. “She Loves Me,” the Hungarian-set musical adaptation, like the play, revolves around the lives and loves of sales clerks at a parfumerie (perfume shop) called Maraczek’s. An affable group for the most part, Georg Nowack (Aaron Talley), the lead sales clerk, enjoys his stable job, as well as the admiration of his boss, Mr. Maraczek (an excellent Eric Trumbull). Georg’s routine life is somewhat upset by the arrival of the appealing Amalia Balash (Ivy Elizabeth), who arrives to fill an extra sales position. The two form a pseudo-rivalry, complicated by a growing attraction, and the fact that they both have mysterious pen pals that they haven’t yet met.
Director Diane King’s set design (with inspiration from Don Bachmann) deserves special mention for its loving attention to detail; the bright splashes of pink make Maraczek’s beautifully adorned shop counters pop. Heather Love’s lavish costuming fully commits to the 1930s aesthetic, with gorgeously patterned animal prints, and hats and gloves for every occasion.
… a lovingly crafted staging featuring deeply felt performances.
Ivy Elizabeth shines as Amalia Balash, conveying the character’s delicate complexity. Confident in her work abilities, and able to verbally spar with Georg, Amalia is also endearingly sensitive. Her performance of “Will He Like Me,” sung before her first date with her mystery beau, nicely communicates the character’s anxiety about being accepted by a man she’s never met, but already likes.
Aaron Talley is similarly strong as Georg Nowack, a sweet everyman who is genuinely excited by the meeting of the minds he enjoys with his anonymous pen pal, who addresses him as “Dear Friend.” His rendition of the show’s title song, “She Loves Me,” a foot-tapping show-stopper, is an adorable portrait of a man realizing he’s in love.
Hannah Neville also turns in a notable performance as Illona, the store’s cashier who is unlucky in love with her two-timing co-worker, Steven Kodaly (a fun Cristian Bustillos). Neville brings an intelligent savvy to the role, and the show takes her love trouble seriously. Her solo, “I Resolve,” is a fun and forceful anthem about setting her standards high.
With a book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, the production clips along at a merry pace, with a constant energy punctuated by laugh-out-loud moments. One of the best interludes, “A Romantic Atmosphere,” showcases the restaurant where Amalia plans to meet her correspondent. It’s a murky establishment for lonely hearts, helmed by an upper crust maître-D desperately trying to salvage the reputation of the place despite some low-class interlopers.
Timothy Burhouse as the irrepressibly cheerful delivery boy Arpad demonstrates some real comic talent that shines especially in the second half. His solo “Try Me,” a delightful job interview in which he tries to convince Mr. Maraczek to hire him, is fantastically entertaining.
It seems fitting that by the end both love, and Christmas, are in the air for Amalia and Georg as they move closer to finding out who their beloved correspondents are. Appropriate for the season, it’s a perfectly wrapped holiday gift.
Running Time: About 2 1/2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
“She Loves Me” runs through Dec. 16 at Fauquier Community Theatre. For tickets, or more information, click here.