Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Wayman's interview with Jeffrey Brian Adams and Monique Hafen of She Loves Me and Richard's reviews of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Equus, All Aunt Hagar's Children, Rapture, Blister, Burn, Entanglement, Absolutely Fabulous, and Cirque du Soleil's Luzia
Joseph Masteroff's book stems from Miklos Laszlo's original Hungarian play Parfumerie. It was adapted into a 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan and the 1949 MGM movie Good Old Summertime starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson (and introducing in the last frame Liza Minnelli). It also got a new adaptation in the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan film You've Got Mail.
Jerry Bock's effervescent music with sparkling lyrics by Sheldon Harnick add to the enjoyment of this glistening musical, with songs like "Tonight at Eight," "Ilona," "Try Me," "Vanilla Ice Cream," "A Trip to the Library," and "Grand Knowing You." The vivacious title song is a little playlet or monologue rather than a mere song.
She Loves Me takes place in 1930s Budapest, mostly in the perfume shop of Mr. Maraczek (Michael Gene Sullivan). The plot centers on Amalia (Monique Hafen) and the chief sales clerk Georg (Jeffery Brian Adams) who take an immediate dislike to each other, not knowing that they've long been writing blissfully to each other in a lonely-hearts club. Other salespeople are Ilona Ritter (Nanci Zoppi), who falls for supreme egotist Steven Kodaly (Rodney Earl Jackson Jr.); mousey Ladislav Sipos (Joe Estlack), who is afraid he not good enough to hold his position; and young Arpad Laszlo (Nicholas J. Garland), the enthusiastic delivery boy who wants to be a salesperson.
Monique Hafen and Jeffrey Brian Adams are outstanding as Amalia and Georg and both have magnificent vocal chops. Hafen has a lovely innocence about her acting, but it is her wonderful voice that commands the stage. She is a commendable successor to Barbara Cook and Ruthie Henshall singing "Will He Like Me?" and "Vanilla Ice Cream." Adams has dynamic vocal chops when singing "She Loves Me" and he brilliantly moves like Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain.
Nanci Zoppi gives a terrific performance as the shopgirl who is infatuated with Kodaly. She shines vocally in the heartfelt song "A Trip to Library." Rodney Earl Jackson Jr. is extraordinary as Steven Kodaly and he rocks with "Grand Knowing You." Sixteen-year-old Nicholas J. Garland is impressive as the go getter delivery boy Arpad Laszlo. He has a harmoniously emerging voice on "Try Me." Joe Estlack gives an excellent performance as the timid Ladislav Sipos and he has full range when singing "Perspective." Michael Gene Sullivan gives a moving performance as shop owner Mr. Maraczek. He has thematic resonance when singing "Days Gone By" and "Maraczek's Memories." Last but not least is the delightful Brian Herndon. He gives a splendid performance as the maitre d' of the most romantic restaurant in Budapest.
Director Susi Damilano does a grand job with a superbly chosen crew, including Kimberly Richards, who provides excellent choreography for the "Twelve Days to Christmas" number, and Bill English and Jacquelyn Scott who provide a wonderfully detailed set that opens up to a jewel box of a perfume shop. Abra Berman designed the beautiful costumes. There are four musicians on each side of the stage and they ably assist the cast under the leadership of David Aaron Brown.
She Loves Me runs through January 14, 2017, at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, 2nd Floor of the Kensington Park Hotel, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. Coming up next is Lucas Hnath's The Christians opening on January 28th.