Theater Review: “She Loves Me” — Amiably Unambitious

By Jim Kates

This review, like the opening night of She Loves Me, is dedicated to the life and work of the late producer Harold Prince.

Bridget Beirne and Joe Bigelow in the Petertborough Players production of “She Loves Me.” Photo: Eric Rothhaus.

She Loves Me, book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Directed by Gus Kaikkonen. Staged by Peterborough Players at 55 Hadley Road, Peterborough, New Hampshire, through August 11.

The fact that there is nothing especially consequential about She Loves Me should not stop anyone from enjoying the Peterborough Players’ production immensely. In this very good sense, it’s an old-fashioned show.

The plot of the 1963 musical is pretty much summed up by its title, and you can fill in the complications — boy and girl think they hate each other, but they don’t. (This particular story began with a Hungarian play and has worked its way through several permutations on screen and stage.) The songs work exceeding well in context (without taking on much life outside of) Charles Morgan’s evocation of a 1930s Budapest perfume shop.

Within that setting, however, all is musical sunshine and dellght. Under the smooth direction of Gus Kaikkonen and the superbly effective choreography of Bill Burns on a relatively small stage — the “romantic café” scene feels almost two-dimensional — the cast sing and dance to an all-round happy ending.

Georg Nowack, solidly if a little heavily played by Tom Frey, engages in correspondence with Amalia Balash, whom he has never met, but who turns up in all her pert and efficient attraction (thanks to Rebecca Brinkley’s animated performance) as a new clerk at what we would now call a boutique, where their aggrieved but ultimately benevolent boss Zoltan Maraczek (Greg Wood) manages sleazy Steven Kodaly (Joe Bigelow), the awakening cashier Ilona Ritter (Bridget Beirne), the ambitious messenger boy Arpad Laszlo (Hunter Michael Minor), and the cheerfully subordinate Ladislav Sipos (Kraig Swartz).

The singers best equipped to overcome the lamentable over-miking — the worst decision of the production, because what competent performer needs a microphone in the Peterborough playhouse even at the worst of times? — are Bigelow and Minor. The others are serviceable, without being spectacular in their singing; and, given the amiably unambitious nature of She Loves Me, this is enough. Brinkley rises to a bravura finish of “Vanilla Ice Cream” in the second act, and the most crackling electricity generated by the Players’ ensemble comes not via the romantic complications of Frey and Brinkley, but in Beirne and Brinkley’s friendly duet “I Don’t Know His Name” and in the interactions (“Ilona’) of Bigelow and Beirne. Beirne gets another fine moment to herself with her “Trip to the Library.”

A scene set in the Café Imperiale gives Richard Rowan a chance to strut some wonderful stuff as the Headwaiter, all teeth and rectangular jaw, insisting on the “Romantic Atmosphere” of his louche establishment, complete with a “Tango Tragique,” in contrast to the retail working romance, waltz, and patter, of Maraczek’s shop.

This review, like the opening night of She Loves Me, is dedicated to the life and work of Harold Prince, who, as producer and director, originally brought the musical to the Broadway stage in, as he had brought so many shows. His death yesterday did not dim the opening lights; instead, a long creative life brightened Broadway for decades, and that light continues to shine in the Peterborough summer.

Jim Kates is a poet, feature journalist and reviewer, literary translator and the president and co-director of Zephyr Press, a non-profit press that focuses on contemporary works in translation from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Asia. His latest book is Paper-thin Skin (Zephyr Press), a translation of the Kazakhstani poet Aigerim Tazhi.

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