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Kavinoky Theatre’s ‘She Loves Me’ is a charmer

The third time is a charm, someone once said.

Case in point, the Joe Masteroff-Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock’s 1963 Broadway musical, “She Loves Me.” It is the third adaptation of the 1936 play “Parfumerie” by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. Two movies from the 1940s, “The Shop Around the Corner” (starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan) and “In the Good Old Summertime” (with Judy Garland and Van Johnson and featuring Lockport-born character actress Lillian Bronson) had similar plots to Laszlo’s story. There is arguably a fourth spinoff, the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan film, “You’ve Got Mail.” And it’s not a reach to add the Rupert Holmes song, “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” to the show’s premise.

So, there is wide and lasting appeal for “She Loves Me,” a sweet love story with an old-fashioned feel to it, told and sung operetta style, two dozen songs moving the tale along steadily but unspectacularly, not a blockbuster melody or show-stopping dance number to be found. The show ran for 302 performances on Broadway, closing only because its production team, surprised by success, had rented a theater much too small to make a profit. There have been decent revivals. The show ranks high on Broadway “best” lists.

Currently, the Kavinoky Theatre has an inviting version of “She Loves Me.” Joe Demerly directs with great care a handsome, mostly veteran cast, one led by Kavinoky and area favorites Norm Sham, Debbie Pappas, Tom Owen, Loraine O’ Donnell, Paul Maisano, Kevin Kennedy, Steve Jakiel and Dan Urtz. Five others play many roles.

It’s Budapest, 1934. The story opens on a beautiful spring day, the employees of Mr. Maraczek’s (Jakiel) perfumery – toiletries, colognes, soaps, lotions, everything for madame and mademoiselle – arriving at work, taking their stations, awaiting their first customers. It’s a classy place, top-shelf. Maraczek is a stickler and his staff is knowledgeable, including shop manager Georg Nowak (Sham); and clerks Ladislav Sipos (Owen), Steven Kodaly (Maisano) and Ilona Ritter (O’Donnell). Georg is a bachelor but has a longtime “Lonely Hearts” pen-pal relationship. Sipos is a busybody, Kodaly a rake in his off hours and Ritter likes a good time and has had a few with Kodaly. Nice people, most.

Pretty, fresh-faced Amalia Balash (Pappas) is hired and sparks – the bad kind – start between she and Georg, who constantly clash, insults and glares traded. Amalia has a secret correspondent, too, “a dear friend,” she calls him; “I Don’t Know His Name,” she sings.

It becomes clear that Georg and Amalia are unknowingly writing to each other, embellishing their lives a little. Longing to meet in person, finally they arrange a date.

It does not go well, this can’t be, they both say, leaving disappointed and discouraged.

But, love conquers all, happy endings abound after a series of problems at work threaten to throw everyone a curve; there are several subplots in this slice-of-life tale.

The score is difficult but clever. Actors Sham and Pappas, newlyweds off the stage but combatants on, are obviously delighted to appear here together and Sham seems to put extra fervor into the title tune. And the always wise, honest and complete Pappas? She could read the phone book aloud, and I’d be there to listen. Her “Will He Like Me?” is a heart-wrencher. When the two finally admit the mutual attraction, it’s almost like the “Piña Colada” lyric: “Oh … it’s you.” Perfect.

There are wonderful minutes from O’Donnell – the confessional “I Resolve” and “A Trip to the Library.” Owen shines on “Perspective.” The gangly, energized Urtz does the same on “Try Me.” Maisano is vaudevillian on “Grand Knowing You” and Kennedy romps hilariously through “A Romantic Atmosphere.” Unfamiliar, unforgettable and well done.

There are some awkward moments. But, it bears repeating: The show is a charmer.

Review

3.5 stars

What: “She Loves Me”

Where: Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Ave. (D’Youville College)

When: Through May 24

Tickets: $39 with discounts for seniors, students, military

Info: 829-7668 or www.kavinokytheatre.com

Story topics: / / / / /

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