Luke Monday and Taylor Magee in "She Loves Me." Photo by Ken Jacques
The burning question in the romantic musical “She Loves Me” isn’t whether unknowing lonely hearts club correspondents Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash will get together. It’s what misunderstandings and harmless complications will ensue before they do. That’s the charm of this underappreciated show written by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (with a book by Joe Masteroff). Bock and Harnick are better known for composing “Fiddler on the Roof,” which opened on Broadway in 1964, a year after “She Loves Me” debuted. “She Loves Me” is no “Fiddler on the Roof,” but as a Scripps Ranch Theatre production directed by Ted Leib demonstrates, it’s festive fun ideal for the arrival of the holidays.
If the premise of “She Loves Me” strikes a familiar chord, it should. The root of the story is a 1937 play by Hungarian Miklos Laszlo. It inspired the 1940 film “The Shop Around the Corner,” with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as the initially dueling co-workers who don’t realize that each is the other’s romantic correspondent.
Nearly a decade afterward came “In the Good Old Summertime,” with Judy Garland and Van Johnson. “She Loves Me,” which returned the story to the stage but as a musical, followed in 1963. (Thirty-five years later, the film “You’ve Got Mail” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan found the correspondents communicating via this relatively new medium called the internet.)
The enduring connection between these various incarnations and the palpable appeal of “She Loves Me” is the would-be lovers’ all too human insecurities. By whatever names, they hunger for true love even as they fear they won’t measure up.
“She Loves Me” is not blessed with a signature song. Neither is the setting, a perfume shop in Budapest in the mid-‘30s, particularly compelling. Its snappy characters and unflagging spirit of fun carry the day. SRT’s ambitious staging (a cast of 14, multiple set changes, two musical accompanists) is the company’s most wholly satisfying since its excellent “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” two years ago.
Taylor Magee, possessing a sparkling soprano, delights as Amalia and gets laughs too in her Act 2 “Vanilla Ice Cream” number. Luke Monday is likable and natural as Georg, at home with both song and antics. The ensemble-driven “She Loves Me” guarantees everyone, right down to the delivery boy (Josh Bradford), a tune of his or her own. Basking in the opportunity are supporting players Tara Sampson, Danny Campbell, Joseph Grienenberger and Tanner Vidos.
There’s also a cleverly choreographed (by Marc Caro-Willcox) café scene (“A Romantic Atmosphere”) in which Georg finds out that Amalia is his “Dear Friend” correspondent. She, of course, won’t learn the truth until the inevitable happy ending.
Considering the tight confines of the Lenbough Legler Theatre stage, a “She Loves You” this seamless is no small achievement for the SRT cast, crew and musicians. Sure, this is a love story that’s been told multiple times before, but the payoff of two lonely people finding each other never gets old. (Review originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune on 11/13/18.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat