December 5, 2023
Review: 'She Loves Me' Not
Joe Siegel READ TIME: 3 MIN.
"She Loves Me," presented by the Players at Barker Playhouse, is less than exhilerating.
The play is a musical set in a Hungarian perfume shop in 1934.
The plot centers on shop employees Georg (Tylar Jahumpa) and Amalia (Victoria Stanger). They don't get along at all. Little do they know that they are each other's anonymous pen pals.
It's not a bad premise, but "She Loves Me" becomes so preoccupied with other subplots that the audience never feels much of a connection between the two lead characters.
The perfume shop owner, the short-tempered Maraczek (Roger Lemelin), learns his wife is having an affair with one of his employees. He thinks it's Georg. Despondent over the betrayal, Maraczek attempts suicide by shooting himself. He later shows up in a wheelchair as he recovers from his injuries.
There's also a budding romance between shop employees Ilona Ritter (Becky Kilcline) and Steven Kodaly (Steven Dulude). Kilcline is sassy and delightful in the role, but Ilona's relationship with Kodaly doesn't lead anywhere.
At two-and-a-half hours, this musical simply wears out its welcome, despite the solid work from the actors.
"She Loves Me" premiered on Broadway in 1963 and ran for only 301 performances. It eventually became a cult classic and enjoyed a successful 2016 Broadway revival. The book is by Joe Masteroff, with music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. It was adapted from the 1937 play "Parfumerie" by Hungarian playwright Miklós László. Its plot is likely familiar to audiences from other adaptations, including the films "The Shop Around the Corner" and "In the Good Old Summertime." More recently it turned up as the plot to "You've Got Mail."
On a purely technical level, "She Loves Me" delivers the goods. Dan Clement's elegant set design and Joseph Carvalho's musical direction are terrific, as well as Ron Allen's lighting and Julia Gillis' energetic choreography.
Joan Dillenback's ("Assassins") direction is competent and the action inside the perfume shop is well staged. Various customers are serenaded by the employees.
Stanger, making her debut with The Players, delivered impeccable vocals on the impassioned "Dear Friend" and "Vanilla Ice Cream."
Jahumpa was exuberant and likable, giving superb performances with "She Loves Me" and "Tonight at Eight."
Dean Hernandez, the star of last spring's "Avenue Q" displayed plenty of charm as Arpad, the budding sales clerk at Maraczek's.
I also liked Kenneth McPherson as the affable salesman Sipos, who advises Georg and serves as his protector.
The cheerful "Twelve Days to Christmas" and "A Romantic Atmosphere" were wonderfully infectious fun. The latter featured Anthony DeRose as the gregarious Headwaiter at a posh eatery frequented by the main characters. The show could have used more moments like these.
The biggest problem was a lack of urgency regarding Georg and Amalia's romance, which comes off as tepid instead of passionate. Basically, I didn't care if they ever got together. That's fatal in a show such as this one.
Truly great musicals like "Phantom of the Opera" and "The Sound of Music" immerse the audience in their character's lives and make you feel their triumphs and tragedies. I just didn't get that from "She Loves Me" and the feeling was one of indifference instead of exhilaration.
"She Loves Me" runs through December 10. The Players at Barker Playhouse. 400 Benefit Street. Providence, RI. For more information, The Players at Barker Playhouse website.
Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.