PERRY — For those who want a different holiday season theatre experience, She Loves Me, directed by Breanne Hendricks, fits the bill. With a book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, She Loves Me is the musical adaptation of a 1937 play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo that has inspired film adaptations such as The Shop Around the Corner, The Good Old Summertime, and a personal favorite: You’ve Got Mail.
Co-workers Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash have a bad first impression that immediately sets them squabbling against each other. However, the two are anonymous pen pals exchanging letters to their “dear friend” that have endeared them to each other. The other co-workers experience their own conflicts within the passage of the show, which resolve as the play turns to Christmastime.
As the central romantic couple, Gary Robertson as Georg Nowack and Ashlee Giblette as Amalia Balash brought humor, charm, and gentle chemistry. The musical does not offer much to the initial conflict, but in their performance, it was easy to root for the inevitable happily ever after where Georg and Amalia’s misunderstandings would transform into love. In particular, the disastrous “in-person” meetup was both fittingly awkward and humorous. Robertson and Giblette then give convincing performances as their characters grow and change and their antagonism fades.
She Loves Me has an ensemble cast with many vignettes and charming musical numbers. The cast is delightful and confident in their group harmonies and musical competence. The group is energized during the hilarious, manic energy of “The Twelve Days To Christmas.” This musical number captured the energy of the shopping season and the anxiety of employees of retail stores at this time of year — an appropriate scene for a show opening on Black Friday. Additionally, the repeated refrain “Thank You, Madam” is an excellent showcase of the vocal talent of the group ensemble.
Each cast member playing a named character proves to be an effective storyteller. David Atkinson as Arpad Lazlo was a highlight in singing what is essentially an interview for a promotion, “Try Me.” Atkinson brought humor with effective movement and voice to entertain. In a similar fashion, Hannah Smith as Ilona Ritter is compelling and relishes the performance of “A Trip to The Library.” Smith shines in other aspects of the performance, especially the comedic timing, particularly in a scene shared between Smith and Giblette’s Amalia anticipating the first meeting of the “dear friend” of the letters.
She Loves Me is dense with characters, story, and song, resulting in a musical that runs of over 2½ hours (including intermission). Yet, some of the show is still rushed, especially after Tim Behunin (as Mr. Maraczek) delivers an emotional scene where a sad secret and mistake are revealed, leading to a shocking conclusion. The emotion of the moment was significant, but immediately the stage crew jumped on stage to clear the set before the moment could have its full impact. The theatrical efficiency diminished the theatrical emotion. The issue recurred a couple more times (after “Vanilla Ice Cream” was another noticeable rushed moment) where there would barely be a momentary pause to conclude the scene before moving forward. An improvement would be to let the audience settle with each scene’s emotional momentum, allowing the lights to fully dim and close the moment.
Distraction from good leading performances was the largest recurring issue and included a few unnecessary ensemble additions. When Amalia and Georg meet up in the restaurant, their conversation is a key moment in the relationship, but distracted by two ensemble members having a dance number to the side during the scene. There is some indication that there is an ensemble tango number in the script, but Hendricks’s staging was confusing and distracting. At the close of the first act, the ensemble in this restaurant environment upstaged a beautiful vocal performance of “Dear Friend” delivered by Giblette. Too much busyness and flat staging distracted from the central, leading performance, especially at a key moment of reflection for the character.
Lighting designer Sariah Aldredge added a lighted border to the stage that was used throughout the production as the shop façade and restaurant lighting. The border added to the theatricality of the show and the dreaminess of the romantic musical numbers. Moreover, it accentuated the set well and added dynamics to the lighting design. Red and green lighting emphasized the Christmas season during the finale number “Twelve Days To Christmas” was every bit how shopping in the holiday season feels with the rush of holiday-themed lighting. Overall, the appearance of the stage, set, lighting, and costumes fit the ambiance of the musical well and was suited and cohesive to the performance.
If Die Hard can be a Christmas movie because it takes place on Christmas Eve, then She Loves Me is definitely a Christmas play. The finale of the show captures that “happily ever after” associated with both romantic comedies and the holiday season. In a theatre world full of community theatre productions of Christmas favorites, She Loves Me offers some alternate viewing in a charming holiday package. She Loves Me at Heritage Theatre is a fitting theatrical complement to those who enjoy the Hallmark Movie Christmas season with all the romcom trimmings, including a touch of snow.