After some terrific work this season (including smashing productions of Noises Off and The Gondoliers), the Gallery Players production of She Loves Me came as something of a disappointment. The 1963 musical, a cult favorite, contains one of the most glorious scores in musical comedy (music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, who would team a year later on the immortal Fiddler on the Roof) and a literate, elegant book by Joe Masteroff. Its oft-told tale of Amalia Balash and Georg Novack, two Hungarian shopclerks who feud by day and (unbeknownst to each other) carry on a correspondence by night, is simply irresistible, and in the right hands the show is a delirious romantic confection.
But while the score was well-served (particularly by the two female leads - the sweet-voiced Mary Elizabeth Sweeney and the brassy but warm Julie Cardia), M. R. Goodley's production was so sloppily directed as to be insulting, especially considering the standards that this company aspires to meet (and so often does). Details were forgotten (the running gag about the ever-decreasing price on a musical cigar box was totally ignored, a bike horn sounded from stage left while the actor riding the bike entered from stage right, etc.), anachronisms abounded (Scotch tape in plastic dispensers in 1930s Budapest?, 1950s American-style Christmas ornaments, etc.), sets, props, costumes, and lighting were drab and looked like they were slapped together in great haste and with little thought to an overall production concept. What little choreography there was (Eugene J. Hutchins) was frail and predictable, and Kenneth W. Gartman's musical direction, arguably the most successful contribution to the evening, still took the tempi at such incredibly fast paces that the performers were frequently tripping over the lyrics, particularly in the trickier rhythmic numbers like "Sounds While Selling," "Tonight at Eight," and "Try Me." Sadly, the entire affair seemed heavy-handed and indifferent, unworthy of the material or the Gallery Players, who are quite capable of better work than this.
Still, there were some pleasures to be had, chiefly from Sweeney, who made a delightful Amalia (her rendition of "Ice Cream" was a genuine pleasure) and Cardia, who stole the show with her completely fabulous portrayal of the lovelorn good-time girl Ilona. The men were generally weaker, a certain twentysomething modernity allowed to creep into their performances, although Marcus Allen Cooper had some fine moments as Georg. And the final scene between Cooper and Sweeney, when Amalia finally realizes that Georg is her Dear Friend, did move one with the genuine simplicity and sparks that had been missing up to this point.
On the way out of the theatre after the performance, another disappointed audience member - evidently a Gallery regular - was overheard to say: "Well, I liked the second act betteh, but that first act bored me to teahs. I've seen bettah heah." Exactly.
(Also featuring Amy Bizjak, Darren Buck, Josh Carr, Tino DeAlmeida, Ken Dray, Mark C. Hilan, Daniel Horn, Britta King, Michael Morisi, Emily Morrison, Julia Snider, Jim Speake. Scenic design: Marisa Lowenstein. Costume design: J. Megan Rhoads. Lighting design: Todd M. Reemtsma.)
Writing: Book: 2 Music: 2 Lyrics: 2
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita