Sunday, December 3, 2023

"She Loves Me" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

The 1963 Bock and Harnick creation She Loves Me is a delicious musical that stands the test of time. Based on a 1937 Hungarian play, the basic story has been told in multiple iterations, including the 1940 Jimmy Stewart movie The Shop Around the Corner, and the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan remake You've Got Mail.* The 2016 Broadway revival featured a starry cast including Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Gavin Creel, and Jane Krakowski and was broadcast live on Broadway HD (and is still available to watch). After its success, there were three #TCTheater productions within a year. But the last one was almost four years ago, so I'm definitely ready to revisit this gem. Lakeshore Players Theatre's new production is well done, with charming performances and beautiful design, and reminded me once again how much I love this musical. See it now through December 20 in lovely lakeside White Bear Lake.

In case you haven't seen any of the iterations of this charming story, here are the basics. Two co-workers at a parfumerie in Budapest have such a contentious relationship that you know deep down they really like each other. As it turns out, they've both been writing to an unknown someone, connected via a "lonely hearts" ad in the paper. Georg finds out first that they've actually been writing to (and falling in love with) each other, which causes him to be a bit nicer to Amalia, so that when she finally learns the truth, she realizes she knew it all along. It's a sweet love story between two strong people who know what they want and won't settle for less. We the audience know that they're perfect for each other, which makes that final resolution so satisfying.*

the Maraczek employees say "Good Morning!"
(photo by Sobbotka Photography)
The show is directed and choreographed by Kyle Weiler, who starred in and choreographed Theater Latte Da's phenomenal production of Next to Normal earlier this year. Before returning to #TCTheater a few years ago, he was also in a little show you might have heard of called Hamilton. He brings all of that experience to bear in this production, which is full of lightness, energy, and joy. The standout dance scenes are the group numbers in the very funny dinner scene "A Romantic Atmosphere" and the well-organized chaos of "Twelve Days to Christmas."

On opening weekend, understudy Abby Covert performed the role of Amalia, and she's a delight. I'm not sure when she got the call that she would be going on, but you'd never know she was an understudy. She's completely believable as the character, fits in well with the cast, and has a lovely voice. As Georg, Thomas Friebe is perhaps a bit too youthful and giddy, but is charming nonetheless, and also has a lovely voice. The two make a believable pair, both when they're arguing and when they're in love. Other highlights in the cast include the adorable Adam Bloom as delivery boy Arpad, Ole Dack as the dashing but deplorable Kodaly, Josiah Fagerstrom as loyal clerk Sipos, Faith Winship with a nice turn as unlucky in love Ilona, and Christopher Taykalo as grumpy but sweet Mr. Maraczek. And everyone in this 16-person ensemble provides great support in the storytelling, filling out the world of the play.

inside the shop (photo by Sobbotka Photography)
Mark C. Koski's beautiful and efficient set design features three arches with colorful faux stained glass, under which neatly fit the front entrance to the shop (with more faux stained glass) and two display cases. All three pieces rotate to form other locations (including the back room of the shop), and other pieces are rolled out, including counters overflowing with packages and containers of beauty products. Scene transitions flow smoothly accompanied by this gorgeous and clever score, well performed by the six-piece pit orchestra led by Music Director Aaron VanDanacker. Characters are dressed in pretty period clothing, Amalia in shades of purple, Ilona in pink, Georg in dark red, complete with matching outerwear (costume design by Meghan Kent).

Lakeshore Players Theatre is billing She Loves Me as "the holiday** musical," but I've never thought of it as such, mainly because the previous productions I've seen have not been during the holiday season. Like Annie, or even RENT, She Loves Me is a musical for any season, that has one scene or song about Christmas. I understand that holiday shows are big business for #TCTheater companies (and I'm all for theaters making money during this time of the year to support theater year-round), so I'll let them have it. And if you're someone who needs all-Christmas-all-the-time in your December theater, this one definitely fits the bill. Conversely, if you're someone who may have already overdosed on Christmas cheer, there's only one song about Christmas so you should be safe with this one. Either way, this is a wonderful production of a gorgeous gem of a musical that deserves to be in regular rotation (but maybe not three times in one year again).

She Loves Me continues at Hanifl Performing Arts Center through December 20.

*Some text summary borrowed from my reviews of previous productions.

**Read about all of the holiday shows I've seen this year here, and listen to the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers holiday preview episode of our podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat here