Village Theatre gives a lovely production to She Loves Me, a rehashed musical based on the same 1930s story that inspired the ’90s film You’ve Got Mail. It runs in Everett through March 22.
If you love drawn-out predictable musicals of romance that‘s based in deception, then have I got a show for you!
Alright, it’s not really as bad as all that. But that owes more to the strength of Village Theatre’s production than the title itself.
She Loves Me (book by Joe Masteroff, based closely on a play by Miklós László; music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) is a show about a man and a woman who fall for each other via letters, without ever meeting in real life — or so they think. In reality, they work together, and aren’t particularly fond of one another. The mystery carries on a bit, then becomes lopsided — as he discovers her identity but strings her along for awhile; and revels his power as he stands her up, concocts cover-up tales, and even shows up in person to needle her over the mystery person she’s waiting for.
It’s a familiar story, no matter your genre or era of choice. The 1960s musical is based on a 1930s play (Parfumerie), which in turn spawned some film adaptations in the ’30s and ’40s (The Shop Around the Corner; In the Good Old Summertime, featuring Judy Garland). The remarkably resilient song Escape (The Piña Colada Song), a 1970s track by Rupert Holmes, follows a similar storyline, as husband and wife, each “cheating” on one another through personal ads, unwittingly fall for each other all over again.
Children of the ’90s would point instead to the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film You’ve Got Mail, in which two strangers (who loathe each other in real life, over competing bookstores and big-box/mom-and-pop-shop economic values) fall in love via email exchange, each looking forward to the ubiquitous AOL robo-voice “You’ve got mail!” announcing the arrival of a new message from the other.
For a storyline, I much prefer the ’90s film version. The competing bookstores (and the investment of money and heart into Ryan’s character’s much-smaller shop) gave the two leads a real conflict to loathe each other over, which the stage musical lacks; and She Loves Me‘s workplace drama feels largely ancillary, ballooning the run time to two hours 45 minutes (with intermission). As a romance, She Loves Me feels like a story that’s largely run its course; though perhaps it’s just a few months too late, as its Christmas-shopping storyline would blend easily into the rush of old-timey holiday shows that proliferate in the months before.
But if older rom-com musicals are your bag, you’re apt to enjoy yourself at this one. For production quality, She Loves Me is another fine example of the strength of Village’s design work and keenness on attracting the best among local actors.
The set (design by Matthew Smucker) is appealing from the start, as the giant cube of a store opens invitingly (if predictably) into a makeup and perfume store that bustles with the Christmas countdown. Bright, and sometimes full-on day-glo, costumes (by Esther Garcia) pop mightily against the glistening white walls and countertops of the store. Lighting (by L.B. Morse) and endless props (by Rachel Bennick) give vivid color and mood to the otherwise largely monochromatic set. Direction by Karen Lund brings out the humorous bits well; and music direction from R.J. Tancioco hits all the right notes.
Some of the best casting choices don’t always get the most stage time. Among them: Be Russell plays a variety of bit parts, and is fantastic in them; as a matter-of-fact, fur-draped elder, she adds a dose of comedy with an unexpected, exaggerated limp. Rafael Molina, seen in Village’s season-opener (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; see NWT’s review here), plays an endearingly eager young lackey, on-the-rise.
The downside — and it’s a big one — is the lack of chemistry between the leads. Eric Ankrim is charming as always, and Allison Standley has an appealingly sharp attitude and a killer voice that lets loose with frequency. But together, their characters are a boring vanilla pair with minimal spark; and any obstacles to their relationship aren’t some systemic divides, but the characters’ own creations.
If Standley’s understudy goes on, it’d be interesting to see if (full-run ensemble member) Cassi Q Kohl adds more edge to the dynamic or performs the same character. Or perhaps, were rights more forgiving and Village more adventurous, she should stand-in for Ankrim a show or two.
Now that could modern-up the story a bit.
She Loves Me runs through 3/22 at Village Theatre in downtown Everett, at the Everett Performing Arts Center; it ran 1/16-2/23 at Village Theatre in Issaquah. Tickets up to $75, available here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are multi-stall and gendered; theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible. Financial accessibility note: $20 rush tickets for Section B seats available to all, 30 minutes before showtime; see details here.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.