OGDEN — “I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this,” wrote author Lemony Snicket, “But first impressions are often entirely wrong. You can look at a painting for the first time, for example, and not like it at all, but after looking at it a little longer you may find it very pleasing. The first time you try Gorgonzola cheese you may find it too strong, but when you are older you may want to eat nothing but Gorgonzola cheese.” In Weber State’s production of She Loves Me by Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock, and Sheldon Harnick, a dramatic change in feelings takes place between two characters with lonely hearts, who discover that the co-worker they detest is in fact the person they love.
In the opening scene, the characters enter one at a time to greet each other with song; I knew immediately which actor was the lead. Tanner Rampton as Georg Nowack was charismatic and precise throughout the show. He excelled in all areas of his performance. Other characters warmed up as the play progressed, like Ladislav Sipos (played by Colton Hattabaugh), who became such a comical highlight with his sweet matter-of-fact views, “I’m a coward with a wife and children to support.” Amalia Balash (played by Kacee Neff) was the female lead, and although her solo, “No More Candy,” was cute, I didn’t really care for her until the restaurant scene. Neff didn’t measure up to Rampton, who drew me in and caught my attention. Once her character became more passionate and vocal, though, I enjoyed her. I also think Neff’s body and movement were too relaxed for the first hour or so. The chemistry between Rampton and Neff was very good; much more believable than Tyler Brown (as Kodaly) and Niki Waite (as Ilona), who seemed so uncomfortable with each other. Brown sang well, but I didn’t feel like his personality was suave enough to seduce women, which is what his character ought to be. Colton Ward was adorable as the delivery boy, Arpad; he was a nice dash of variety in the Parfumerie.
Set designer William Forrester markedly improved the generic, classroom-type atmosphere of Weber’s Allred Theater when the curtains parted and revealed the charming set. The Parfumerie, where the bulk of the play takes place, had a cream colored exterior and windows that allowed the audience to see inside to this fancy version of Bath and Body Works, with shelves of shiny product bottles. The program says, “Scenery provided by The Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre,” so I suppose they deserve most of the credit for the design and craftsmanship that I impressed me. The roll-on set of the shop’s backroom was a nice contrast, with its rich wood and intimate size. Amalia’s apartment, as well, was a very tight space, but decorated with feminine wallpaper and bedding. In one scene, the shop fades to black, inside and out, but the tall doors on both sides of the stage stay dimly lit, casting an oval of light in front of each one; the effect was idyllic, thanks to William Peterson’s lighting design. As Christmas approached, it was nice to see the shop festively decorated; and the wings of the stage were finally used as a perch for the carolers in, “Christmas Countdown.” With the roll-on hospital room, I was bothered by the size of the bed, which Mr. Maraczek (played by Matt Baxter) could never possibly lay down in, and the lighting made Baxter’s stage makeup very pronounced. Baxter sings a very sweet song in that scene, but I feel that the visual environment didn’t benefit him.
Karrie Freeman Randall took me into the world of the 1930’s with her polished costuming. The men wore suits and hats to work, and the women wore dresses and t-strap heels. Crispness and lush details were everywhere. The scene in Amalia’s apartment especially delighted me. Georg stood in his tailored suit next to her, who was dressed in pajamas. The image magnified the fact that he had the power in the scene, knowing the reality of their situation. Katie Rogel designed the hair and make-up for the show. The wigs that were used were adequate, except for Ilona’s blonde curls, which thoroughly disappointed me; it should have looked more realistic for a lead character. Neff’s hair looked great. Weber’s sound quality was nice; I didn’t have to strain, and there was no feedback or crackling. (The same cannot be said for many other University productions I’ve seen in Utah.) I wished for a tiny adjustment in volume when either of the principle females really belted, but that is my only complaint. The sound designer was Jessica Greenberg, and I applaud Weber State for investing in quality equipment.
Director Jim Christian’s production of this musical constantly surprised me because every time I felt it slip into a slow or boring moment, it would suddenly bounce back to witty and exaggerated. “Tonight at 8,” was a fun frenetic scene full of rhyming and alliterative lyrics. But then when Waite and Neff sing a duet in the back room of the shop, it was really difficult to understand what each one was saying. “Will He Like Me,” was dull and pitchy, but made “Dear Friend,” even sweeter as we saw Amalia changing. The repetition of, “Thank you, Madam,” was a charming touch when any customer left the store. And Rampton is predictably amazing in his performance of, “She Loves Me,” in front of the Parfumerie. He exuded happiness in his face, choreography, and voice.
Lastly, the ensemble was a major strength throughout. I love their comedy and dancing in the restaurant, two gushing actors drew laughter with, “Victor!” and “Stephanie!” Matthew Richards was a fantastic waiter in that scene. But the ensemble really wowed me in “Twelve Days to Christmas.” Awesome vocals, awesome energy—they successfully framed the developing relationship of the two leads.
Underwhelmed initially, I thought the show had too many songs and not enough dialogue, but the script and character development improved, and my enthusiasm grew quickly. Leaving the theater, I was so pleased with the finished product. The costumes and set surpassed my expectations, along with many of the actors. Tanner Rampton’s beeming smile, in the final scenes of the play, are a perfect reflection of my feelings about this piece. Jim Christian and Weber State University present an invigorating and lovable She Loves Me.