From the same source of inspiration for the Jimmy Stewart classic, “Shop Around the Corner,” and 1998 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie, “You’ve Got Mail,” is the 1963 musical She Loves Me. The show, with book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and music by Jerry Bock, is the story of two shop employees who constantly butt heads but, unbeknownst to them, are romantic pen pals who have never met face-to-face.
Fauquier Community Theatre has chosen She Loves Me as their final production of the year, with Diane King serving as Director and Laura Crowne as Choreographer.
Set in a European perfumery in the 1930s, characters Georg Nowack (Aaron Talley) and Amalia Balash (Ivy Elizabeth) meet when Amalia comes in search of a job at Maraczek’s (Eric Trumbell) store. Nowack and Balash start off on a bad foot when Balash causes Nowack to lose a bet by selling a musical cigarette box, which Nowack–the store’s assistant manager–had insisted was a product that would have no return. Elizabeth sings “No More Candy,” displaying her lovely voice and winning the whims of the potential buyer.
The audience learns early on, though, as Nowack and Balash sing “Three Letters,” that the two are anonymous correspondents to each other in an ongoing romantic letter exchange. “Dear Friend” is their affectionate term for one another and the two are ardently in love, based on the connection and comfort they receive from the letters.
Also working at the store is the middle-aged family man Ladislav Sipos (John Downes), the young coquettish Ilona Ritter (Hannah Neville), the suave Steven Kodaly (Cristian Bustillos), and the young devoted delivery boy Arpad Laszlo (Timothy Burhouse).
Sipos is a friend to Nowack, who confides that he will finally meet his “Dear Friend” “Tonight at Eight.” And Balash shares the news of the meeting with Ritter in their duet, “I Don’t Know His Name.” Elizabeth and Neville blend beautifully together in the funny song as Ritter comments on the absurdity of the situation.
But the unlikely, anonymous love match is not the only turmoil in the story. Ritter and Kodaly have been having an unsuccessful love affair. Kodaly repeatedly makes promises he can’t keep, and Neville’s Ritter is a show-stealer, singing “I Resolve” after Kodaly has yet again canceled their date.
There is also an unknown tension between Maraczek and Nowack, ultimately causing Nowack’s resignation despite Sipos’ advice to just be a “yes” man in the song “Perspective.”
The story is clever with many dark, unexpected moments at the end of Act One, making the audience question the musical’s billing as a romantic comedy. But don’t give up hope. The second act brings more fun numbers, like Arpad’s hopeful “Try Me,” Balash’s frantic “Where’s My Shoe,” and Ritter’s “A Trip to the Library.”
The production does tend to drag. The slow pacing is further aggravated by long, sometimes silent, scene changes, seemingly due to multiple impressive yet cumbersome flats (set design by Diane King) that must be moved across the stage to represent the interior or exterior of the shop, and other scenes.
These faults aside, Fauquier Community Theatre’s production of She Loves Me is a charming musical showcasing some of the area’s local talent. The musical celebrates love, friendship, and sincerity with a flourish and a nod.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Choreographer, Dawn Fansler; Producer, Laurie Bersack; Co-Stage Manager, Dawn Fansler; Co-Stage Manager, Susan Larsen; Assistant Stage Manager, Rebecca Boston; Costumer, Heather Love; Assistant Costumer, Micki Lindquist; Set Designer, Diane King; Set Builder, Ron King and Daniel King; Light Designer, Kurt Gustafson; Sound Design, Brandon Gibson; Ensemble, Cheryl Bolt, Madeline Fanta, Carleigh Hopkins, Jennifer Rodriguez, Christie Dubnansky, Camden Gillespie, Eugene Bates, Benjamin Bowers, Hilary Pierce