Spring is in the air and so is romance in “She Loves Me,” a gorgeously performed and staged production of the well-loved musical, now at Signature Theatre. Anyone needing a feel-good, or even a feel-wonderful, story will find it here.
The overall sunniness of the show is evident from the top. When we open on Maraczek’s parfumerie in 1930s Budapest, birds are chirping and spirits are high. Shop clerks Georg, Ladislav, Steven, and Ilona gripe gently about playing hooky, but don’t seem too terribly disappointed to start another workday.
Perhaps that’s understandable, given how beautiful their place of work is. Signature’s scenic design, courtesy of Lee Savage, is phenomenal, with the sparkling set of the shop unfolding like a storybook (receiving its own round of applause). The men sport dapper suits, while the women enjoy a full wardrobe of jewel-toned dresses (costuming by Alejo Vietti). There’s loving attention to detail, from the rainbow wall of perfume bottles, to the spats on shop owner Mr. Maraczek’s feet. When newcomer Amalia Balash enters outfitted in sky blue, looking for a job, we know the story’s about to start.
…a gorgeously performed and staged production…Anyone needing a feel-good, or even a feel-wonderful, story will find it here.
Maraczek’s appears a pleasant place to work, at least at first. Mr. Maraczek (Lawrence Redmond) clearly has a fatherly attitude towards his staff, especially George (Deven Kolluri). Errand boy Arpad (an excellent Emmanuel Elliot Key) is eagerly dedicated to his job. Colleagues Georg and Ladislav (a splendid Bobby Smith) are also chummy friends, and Ilona (Maria Rizzo) and Steven Kodaly (Jake Loewenthal) are a bit more than chummy friends. But Amalia’s (Ali Ewoldt) entrance, and her success in convincing Maraczek to hire her as a sales clerk, rankles Georg and sets up a friction between the two, even as their fizzy chemistry increases.
Added to this set up is the delightful wrinkle that Georg and Amalia are each others’ anonymous pen pal, unbeknownst to either of them. As the unwitting couple’s intellectual romance warms, Georg’s relationship with Mr. Maraczek cools, for reasons that remain a temporary mystery to the shop clerk.
Book by Joe Masteroff and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick are witty and breezy. When Amalia confesses to Ilona that she’s about to meet her paramour for the first time, the unlucky-in-love Ilona quips, “Tell me all about him, I love to suffer.”
Director Mathew Gardiner keeps the action moving at a clip towards Georg and Amalia’s romantic collision at the end of the first half. Ali Ewoldt nicely captures Amalia’s confidence, as well as her vulnerability fearing the rejection of her pen pal paramour. Deven Kolluri plays Georg as generally affable, expressing his comic frustration when he realizes the woman he’s been corresponding and falling in love with is none other than Ms. Balash.
The lead performances are rounded out by a very strong cast. “Ilona,” which sees shop clerk Steven Kodaly attempting to win back ex-girlfriend Ilona is just one musical highlight. Jake Loewenthal is excellent as the two-timing seducer Kodaly, and Maria Rizzo excels as Ilona, as she humorously tries, and fails, to withstand his advances. A live orchestra adds excitement and energy to the many set pieces and musical performances throughout the show.
All the wrongs of the first act are righted in the second, as Amalia and Georg move closer to each other in real life. Misunderstandings are cleared up, leading to an ending that’s as sunny, and bright, as the beginning.
Running time: Approximately two and a half hours with one intermission.
Advisory from Signature: This show has mild sexual innuendo, an offstage attempted suicide/gunshot sound effect and theatrical haze. Appropriate for all ages (Signature does not admit children under 6.)
“She Loves Me” runs through April 24, 2022 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Virginia 22206. For more information about the show and tickets, click here. To review Signature’s COVID-19 safety measures, click here.