Theater Review: ‘She Loves Me’ a holiday gem at Pa. Playhouse
If you are a fan of classic Hollywood movies, you might have seen the 1949 Technicolor film, “In the Good Old Summertime,” starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson. It was the musical version of the 1940 Jimmy Stewart movie, “The Shop Around the Corner,” which in 1998 was adapted as “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
In all its transformations, the plot is about two individuals who despise each other, unaware that they are the secret pen pals whom they “met” through lonely hearts advertisements. They know each other only as “Dear Friend.”
Not having enough of a good thing, in 1963 another musical version, “She Loves Me” premiered on Broadway and had a revival there in 2016.
Now playing a little west of Broadway, “She Loves Me” is Pennsylvania Playhouse’s ambitious Christmas production through Dec. 22. The show, seen Dec. 6 for this review, is directed by Rody Gilkeson, and features 22 high-energy cast members singing, acting and dancing their way through 27 songs with spirited music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.
The love interests are played delightfully by Brian Houp (Georg Nowak) and Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson (Amalia Balash).
If you wonder about the unusual character names, the original script was written by a Hungarian playwright and was set in a perfume store in Budapest at Christmas shopping time. The shop and time haven’t changed, but the location is of no importance anymore since the themes of loneliness, rejection and the desire for love are universal.
“She Loves Me” adds a second relationship between 30-something shop worker llona Ritter, played convincingly by Beth Sucro, and suave Steven Kodaly, portrayed by Michael Corcoran with the imposing singing voice. Ritter’s number, “A Trip to the Library,” is a standout, while Corcoran gets his chance to shine in “Grand Knowing You” near the end of Act II.
One thing that is striking in this production is the uniformly high quality of all the singing voices. The music score in turn provides some captivating moments for the performers.
Others in the cast include Joshua Mitchell, Ted Williams, Paul Bonnici, Matt Redline, Jaedon Muhl and Phillip Wallens. Performing in the ensemble are Angelina Dries, Cindy Ernst, Deven Windisch, Jaedon Muhl, Johnny Bertone, Kyleigh Vicoso. Lee Ronald and Monica Handwerk.
The customers are Jessica Weber, Sophia Johnson-Grimes, Cindy Ernst and Johnny Bertone.
Credit goes to choreographer Meghan Kohler and music director Nancy Shoemaker for the two memorable ensemble numbers, “Goodbye Georg” and “Twelve Days to Christmas.”
Set designers Brett Oliveira and Kristen Wettstein once again create interesting and effective multi-level performance spaces on and around the thrust stage.
“She Loves Me” is a feel-good musical gem perfect for the holiday season. Enjoy.
Tickets: Pennsylvania Playhouse Box Office, 390 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem; paplayhouse.org; 610-865-1192