Imagine someone wanted Sondheim, but with a happy ending and genuinely lovable characters. Ta-da! She Loves Me was written in the ‘60s by Joe Masteroff (book), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Jerry Bock (music) as a musical adaptation of Miklos Laszlo’s 1937 play Parfumerie. There have been a number of treatments of Laszlo’s central premise through the years, but I won’t name them in case that’s a spoiler for anyone.
Silhouette Stages is currently performing She Loves Me at the Slayton House at Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. You’ll want your GPS, or to have been there before already for another production, perhaps Silhouette’s Cabaret (book also by Joe Masteroff) earlier this year. Inside the theater, you have the option of raked bleacher seating or chairs flat on the floor for your convenience and viewing pleasure.
As for the show itself, I quite like it. Strong book, great music and excellent lyrics are always a nice start. It’s structured more like an operetta than a musical in the contemporary sense. There are a great many scene changes, a great many songs, and not many sequences with dialogue of more than a few lines.
The music is wonderful- it evokes, in a good way, everything I like about Sondheim, and once in awhile, I hear a little that reminds me of Fiddler on the Roof, which shouldn’t be a surprise, since Jerry Bock also wrote Fiddler’s music, but I forgot that, so it is.
Director / Choreographer Stephen Foreman assembles a body-positive cast of characters at a cosmetics shop in Budapest in the 1930s. Michael Tan as store clerk Ladislav Sipos is stuffy and tentative, which is a tribute to his acting chops. Justin Diaz as Arpad Lazlo oozes youthful charm and earnestness. They begin the opening number, which tells us little about our “world,” but a great deal about the characters. Angelica Peaco, playing cashier Ilona Ritter, adds her rich voice to the song, exuding confidence that spreads all over the production. Steven Kodaly, played by Kevin James Logan, sings his extravagant lyrics ever so smoothly. Our main protagonist George Nowack appears, portrayed by Brad Davis, who has strong vocals and an engaging face. The song finishes on a wistful note.
Matt Scheer, trying to look older than his years, enters as Mr. Maraczek, shop owner. And then the set opens: I am enchanted. It’s an adorable dollhouse designed by Stephen Foreman (who also serves as set designer), decorated with great attention to detail. Maggie Mellott, Sara Kalafos and Ande Kolp arrive as ladies shopping, and the second ensemble number is delightfully silly fun. Matt Scheer sings “Days Gone By” with a strong, appealing voice. Amalia Balash, love interest, played endearingly by Kelly Rardon, enters with dialogue that conveys awkwardness, and nails “No More Candy,” her first solo, and the cast is complete.
Not quite complete: five more performers, whom we’ll meet later, round out this age-diverse cast. For now, our main characters are here. The plot begins to unfold. Ah, the plot: it’s been done often enough that audience members will recognize it. The complications are as unsurprising as the ending, but once upon a time, we LIKED predictable entertainment, and couldn’t we use a bit of predictability just now?
Angelica Peaco and Kelly Rardon have a duet which showcases both lovely voices, Michael Tan sings “Perspective,” simultaneously dealing with a significant set snafu, carrying both off with professionalism and panache. Kevin James Logan, (whose resemblance to Mr. Humphries from Are You Being Served makes his portrayal of womanizer Steven Kodaly a tough sell), woos Ilona in song. Peaco delivers a feminine anthem in “I Resolve” before shop intrigue finishes Scene 3. We meet the rest of the cast in “Romantic Atmosphere,” featuring extremely watchable Christopher Kabara as maître d’ at a local club. The transition is cleverly staged to eliminate lag between Scenes 3 and 4. Snappy banter ensues, and more singing, then Intermission.
Act I seems twice as long as Act II, due to Act I’s leisurely pace and the swift, nearly rushed, timing of the second act. Justin Diaz as Delivery Boy Arpad opens Act II terrifically with “Try Me.” “Where’s My Shoe,” a duet between Georg and Amalia (Brad Davis and Kelly Rardon), is a gem lyrically and visually. Rardon makes “Vanilla Ice Cream” her strongest solo in the show, then Davis channels Gene Kelly for “She Loves Me,” all the subplots resolve, romantic leads have a duet, curtain call, roll credits.
Just kidding about the roll credits part. She Loves Me is, in Silhouette’s hands, a sturdy old-fashioned show with sturdy old-fashioned sensibilities. It’s darling and sweet, a good choice if you’re overloaded by unpleasantness like news, rush hour, memes or what passes for customer service at chain stores. Despite some initial technical issues, it’s a well-delivered show, and a fun night- or afternoon- out, plus culture and supporting the arts. If you like it, you can look up the films inspired by Laszlo’s original play to enjoy later. You might even leave humming one of the happy little tunes.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Silhouette Stages’ She Loves Me plays at Slayton House Theater in Wilde Lake Village Center, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD, through October 27, 2019, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm. Purchase tickets online.
Busboy/Caroler, Logan Snyder; Mr. Keller/Male Ensemble, Robert Certain; Female Ensemble, Dana Bonistalli and Twila Marie
Musical Director, Andrew Zile; Lighting Design, Atticus Cooper Boidy & Maggie Urban; Sound Design, Ben Kinder; Costume Coordinator, Deana Cruz-Conner; Wig Design, Tommy Malek; Props Master, Ande Kolp