by Terrance Mc Arthur
He and She can’t stand each other. However, the two of them have been writing to each other for a long time. They have fallen in love with each other, but they don’t know it.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Some people would say, “Oh, yeah! Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail!”
Others would say, “Of course! Judy Garland and Van Johnson in 1949, in In the Good Old Summertime!”
Yet another group would say, “I know that one! Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Little Shop Around the Corner! That was in 1940.”
Hungarians would say, “That has to be Miklos Laszlo’s 1937 play, Parfumerie!”
Fans of live musical theatre might say, “Let’s go to the Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre to see the 1963 musical, She Loves Me, which is playing through December 22.”
Whichever you remember, it’s the same basic story. They are all based on the Hungarian play.
Georg (Teddy Maldonado) and Amalia (Emily Pessano) work as salesclerks for a perfume shop in Budapest, Hungary. Georg is still upset that she talked her way into a job, going over his head to the owner, Mr. Maraczek (Roger Christensen). Ilona (Kaley Marsh) loves the rakish Mr. Kodaly (Michael Fidalgo), but is getting tired of his habit of breaking dates with her. Georg and Amalia each have pen pals through a lonely-hearts club (the 1930s equivalent of eHarmony), and they agree to meet at a romantic restaurant. When Georg discovers that he has written—and fallen for—the woman who drives him crazy at work, the complications multiply…delightfully.
She Loves Me boasts songs by the team behind Fiddler on the Roof, and a book by the scripter of Cabaret. Its various Broadway runs have won supporting performer awards for Jack Cassidy and Jane Krakowski. This is good, strong material with a frothy lightness, the theatrical equivalent of a pumpkin mousse.
Maldonado and Pessano are the foundations everything builds upon. Fresno’s musical-comedy version of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne pounce their way through their performances, showing delight and sharing it. Teddy is cuddly and energetic, bustling about the business and bouncing with joy as he sings the title song. Pessano is wide-eyed hope personified, whether desperately seeking a job or imagining her pen pal’s reactions when they meet, and rapture over a gift of vanilla ice cream.
Marsh’s role has been played by the likes of Krakowski and Rita Moreno, and she has that wacky, free-spirited drive bottled and purified. Fidalgo is smug, self-absorbed, and a good-looking Willem Dafoe with an extra dose of slime.
Christensen is big and blustery, a wind that changes direction without warning, but there is a gentle warmth in his songs of memory. Lex Martin is the ultimate rom-com best friend as Sipos, Georg’s buddy, confidante, and advisor, a competent George Costanza to Maldonado’s Seinfeld. Jeremy Marks is heart winning as a delivery boy with dreams of clerkdom. Edgar Olivera’s singing waiter is subtly smarmy as he extols the café-s romantic atmosphere and polices the place, while Jonathan Padilla is a whirlwind of amazement, movement, and reactions as a busboy caught up in the dance of love. Yaya Simpson deserves note as a customer drawn in by Amalia’s first sales pitch.
Elizabeth Fiester’s direction is of the quality one expects from her. Judith Dickison’s vocal coaching brings a bell-like clarity to the singing. David Pierce’s set folds and unfolds like an origami masterpiece. Ginger Kay Lewis Reed’s costumes have a subtle cohesion of tone, with delightful splashes of unexpected color.
This production is one of those marvelous Christmas packages that GCP likes to slide into the 2nd Space for the holiday season. Unwrap it, and you’ll be very happy.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean. A new episode went up this week.
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