Revival remains a charmer

Review: At Olney, `She Loves Me' is a holiday treat despite its missteps.

November 30, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

What could be sweeter than a show set in a perfume shop?

The charming 1963 musical She Loves Me is based on a first-class source - Miklos Laszlo's Parfumerie, a Hungarian play that also inspired at least three movies (most recently, You've Got Mail). Yet the small-scale Broadway musical was quickly overshadowed by its creators' larger, glitzier subsequent shows. (Songwriters Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's next show was Fiddler on the Roof; scriptwriter Joe Masteroff later penned the book for Cabaret.)

Olney Theatre Center's revival of She Loves Me isn't perfect, but the show's charms remain intact, and with its pivotal scenes set during the Christmas season, the production is a lovely holiday treat.

Although most of the action takes place in Maraczek's Parfumerie, the sweetness in this particular shop is offset by several difficulties. Two sales clerks can't stand each other; two others are having an on-again-off-again affair; and an anonymous letter has informed Mr. Maraczek that one clerk is fooling around with Mrs. Maraczek.

The plot focuses on the two antagonistic clerks. Peggy Yates' Amalia has rubbed Stephen F. Schmidt's Georg wrong from the day she cleverly persuaded Mr. Maraczek to hire her. But unbeknown to either of the spatting co-workers, they are each other's secret romantic pen pals.

It's an amusing predicament that would be even more amusing if Jim Petosa's uneven direction gave us a stronger sense of the initial enmity between Georg and Amalia. Further hampered by Schmidt's rather stiff, stand-offish performance, the relationship rarely emits enough sparks of either the spiteful or romantic variety. Schmidt even seems to hold back in the title song, when Georg presumably drops his defenses and gives into all-out rejoicing.

Yates fares better as Amalia. She exudes such unquenchable determination, it's easy to believe she could get on someone's nerves. And later, when her hopes are dashed and she compares herself to a rag doll, Yates flops so dejectedly on her bed, she truly seems to have lost her backbone.

The musical's other romantic couple - Sherri L. Edelen as worldly Ilona and Jeffries Thaiss as womanizing Steven Kodaly - deliver impeccable performances. Edelen's spirited renditions of Ilona's two solos, "I Resolve" and "A Trip to the Library," are among the evening's comic high points. And Thaiss oozes smarmy seductiveness, from his brilliantined hair and pencil-thin mustache to the way he spins his Panama hat down his arm and into his hand. The rest of the supporting cast also is fine, particularly Harry A. Winter as fatherly, cuckolded Mr. Maraczek.

Ilona Kessell's choreography sparkles in the frenzied restaurant number, "A Romantic Atmosphere," in which the headwaiter winds up trapped in the middle of a circle of dancing patrons. The only sour notes - literally - are sounded by the six-member pit orchestra, whose weak musicianship does a serious disservice to the cast and to Bock's lilting melodies.

But even so, the pleasures of this delightful musical shine through. She Loves Me was the first show I ever saw on Broadway, and repeated viewings only enhance my affection. She Loves Me is a little love of a show.

She Loves Me

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney

When: 7:30 p.m. Sundays, most Tuesdays; 8 p.m. most Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, most Saturdays. Through Dec. 30

Tickets: $15-$34

Call: 301-924-3400

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