SALT LAKE CITY — Adapted by librettist Joe Masteroff from the classic film The Shop Around the Corner, the main story of She Loves Me centers on two coworkers in a perfume shop that dislike each other, while unknowingly (and anonymously) corresponding to each other through the mail. There are several subplots, revolving around the various employees as well as the owner of the shop. All are intertwined to bring the happily ever after ending appropriate for a production during the Valentine season. The story has been told in one way or another in plays and movies over the years, each being popular.
The University of Utah’s Theatre department often puts together fine productions, and She Loves Me was no exception. I was quite impressed with the set, designed by Kyle Becker. The majority of the action takes place inside the store, with a few scenes on the street outside, in a restaurant, apartment, or hospital room. Becker designed a beautiful skyline and a lovely street scene with the shop doors and windows overlooking the shop for the opening street scene. After the first number, the set is quickly transformed into the shop, which is full of detailed set pieces and props. Each scene change happened with ease, and the versatility and believability of the set were breathtaking.
Ubeeng Kueq and Alex Marshall, both dressed in concert best provided the accompaniment for the show on two onstage pianos. Both obviously skilled musicians, and they provided a rich, full sound for Jerry Bock‘s music (with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick). I must also commend them in particular for supplying the “musical candy boxes,” which were essential to the plot. Both musicians paid close attention to the onstage action, and the care in following their cues was impressive.
The opening number, “Good Morning, Good Day,” introduces most of the characters in the story. Many of the supporting characterss were able to shine early in this number, and continued to have strong performances throughout the show. Young Arpad (played by Dylan MacDonald) starts the show out as the eager delivery boy for the shop. MacDonald reaches his peak of excellence in the first number of the second act, “Try Me,” his character convinces his boss to give him a promotion. “Good Morning, Good Day” also introduces Sipos (played by John-Nathan Stark), a family man, who feels the most important thing is to please the boss and keep his job. Stark humorously shows this drive in Sipos in “Perspective.”
Ilona (played by Conner Norton) is a young salesgirl and cashier who has unfortunately fallen too often for the wrong man. Norton has a strong alto voice, and does well in many songs, including the strong harmonies in “I Don’t Know His Name.” Norton also has a great sense for comedic timing, especially in “I Resolve” and “A Trip to the Library.” William Cooper Howell plays ladies man Kodaly, a sweet talking, slick guy that appears to be able to get any girl he wants. Kodaly is part of a plot twist that leads to a delightfully angry number “Grand Knowing You” that Howell delivers with equal parts talent and sarcasm.
The ensemble members were all talented, with the best ensemble number, “Twelve Days to Christmas,” showing the skill of the cast vocally and in their acting. As the song progresses, the ensemble got progressively more frazzled as the shopping before Christmas became more hectic. However, instead of just looking chaotic, the cast (under the director, Denny Berry), created a beautiful scene that helped convey the feelings of the holiday season.
But the two main love birds, Amalia (played by Leah Hassett) and Georg (played by Jaron Barney), were the backbone of the show. Amalia is a headstrong salesgirl who is also struggling with the fears of meeting her “dear friend” that she has been writing for so long, all the while hating her coworker Georg. Hassett has amazing vocal range, as demonstrated in “Will He Like Me?” and “Vanilla Ice Cream.” She also showed a great deal of comedic timing in “No More Candy” when Amalia is forced to make a difficult, almost impossible sale. Barney also is a skilled vocalist, but what I appreciated more was his attention to facial detail and body language. In “Tonight at Eight,” Barney sang of the fear and trepidation that George was facing at the prospect of meeting this secret pen pal. I could see, feel, and believe that the fear he was facing was real. In the second act the joy and adulation Georg feels during the song “She Loves Me” is equally as believable. I have had the pleasure of seeing Barney in other productions, and while he has always been a skilled and excellent actor, I can see that the education he has received at the University of Utah has helped him to develop his skills and talents and use them in ways to create richer and stronger characters.
Finally, as it is the month for romance, I would say this is an excellent show to introduce a partner to the musical theatre that may be a bit leery of the genre. I overheard a young lady introducing a friend to a cast member after the show, and she stated that her guest had never been to a musical before. His response was that the cast convinced him to certainly attend another musical in the future. I agree that this show would definitely drum up enough interest to see more entertainment of this nature.