Long before the film “You’ve Got Mail” took America by storm, the story that it told was one that was told, many times. as a book, as a play and of course as a Broadway musical- a man and a woman correspond with each other ( lonely hearts clubs did exist at one time) through the written word and find themselves falling in love with the other person. Is it really possible? Or is it the mystery of facing the unknown? “She Loves Me” often referred to as “The Perfect Musical”, now onstage at the very intimate Writers Theatre Tudor Court in Glencoe, tells this story with some wonderful music(Jerry Bock) and lyrics(Sheldon Harnick) and a book by Joe Masteroff. Just think, the former gave us “Fiddler on The Roof” and the latter “Cabaret”; why not expect something wonderful?
“She Loves Me” is not a typical “glitzy” Broadway show, no large production numbers or gigantic, spectacular dance numbers, just a simple story told with music, and with the exception of the title song, most of the others, although well written and integral to the storyline are not memorable at all. That’s what makes this musical so unique; a wonderful story, witty and charming songs and a really good feeling for an audience. The show is done more by regional and community theater troupes as there are some powerful roles and very little chorus or dance routines to worry about. It can even be done with a very simple set and in a small theater. Lake Zurich Players did a production of this about 11 years ago and I was brought in to replace the actor playing Maraczek, the shopkeeper where most of the action takes place. Before stepping in, I knew very little of this show, but once involved, I found myself falling in love with the book and music. I have a feeling that this holds true for the brilliant cast that Michael Halberstam has selected for his production at Writers.
The story takes place in Maraczek’s perfume shop in Hungary, 1932 ( there are no accents in this production an din fact very little to make you even think we are elsewhere), Georg Nowak ( marvelously played by Rod Thomas, who continues to grow as an actor and gets stronger in his handling of comedy with each new challenge he accepts) is the head clerk, whose life is all work and no play. He runs the front part of the shop for Maraczek ( handled with great care by Chicago veteran Ross Lehman, who doesn’t “camp” this character as I have seen in the past). Georg has been writing letters to “Dear Friend” for sometime now in hopes to meet the perfect woman. As it turns out , a new employee of the shop, Amalia Balash ( the energetic and adorable Jessie Mueller) also has been writing to her “Dear Friend” and guess what? Yes, you guessed it! They have been writing to each other, but it takes a lot of twists and turns for us to get to “the Happy Ending”. There are some other unique stories with the other characters: Maraczek it turns out has been investigating his wife’s possible affair ( and with one of his clerks) and he guesses wrong. Ladislav Sipos ( the always reliable Kevin Gudahl) is one of the clerks as is Steven Kodaly ( James Rank at his miserable best) the womanizer who has been spending time with the store cashier Ilona Ritter ( Heidi Kettenring in another wow! performance, she is one great comic actor with a voice that can hit notes high and low) and any other woman who might be within proximity of the shop. The last employee of the shop is young Arpad ( a solid job by Bernard Balbot) the delivery boy who wants to rise to clerk. Each of these cast members delivers and in a small, intimate musical as “She Loves Me” is, this is of great importance.
Also of importance is the ensemble players. I love ensemble players as they are the people who change clothes and characters on a dime and blend their voices to fit the story. Andrew Goetten, Kelli Clevenger,Stephanie Herman,Bethany Thomas and Jeremy Rill who is outstanding in his featured spot as the waiter. they are all top-notch with great energy. The musical direction by Ben Johnson and the sound (Ray Nardelli) and lighting(Keith Parham) all help to create Halberstam’s magic in this very intimate theater setting. The set, designed by Jack Magaw tends to make the best use of this small space allowing the shop to be both inside and out and with a piece of furniture here or there and a curtain closing, it becomes a nightclub, the park, a bedroom or a hospital room- very clever. The costumes (Nan Zabriskie are very “fitting”, but in this particular production, the prop master/designer Nick Heggestad is to be applauded- he and his staff really “got it”
If you have never seen this show ( and many of you have not) may I suggest you plan your trip to Glencoe to do so. You have until November 21st ( and I wouldn’t be surprised if an extension is added) with performances as follows:
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday and Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 6 p.m.
Tickets range from $45-$70 and are availabel at the box office located down the street at 376 Park ( in the book store), by phone at 847-242-6000 or online at www.writerstheatre.org
The thater is located at 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe, just North of what the call downtown Glencoe, off of Green Bay Road with loads of free parking in the area and you might want to come early and explore the quaint shops and eateries