Curtain Rises: ‘She Loves Me’ has fine pedigree at Pa. Playhouse
“She Loves Me,” the musical that closes the 2019 season at the Pennsylvania Playhouse, has a fascinating theater and movie pedigree.
The original production of the Broadway musical, with music by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and book by Joe Masteroff (“Cabaret”), was nominated for five Tony Awards in 1963. “She Loves Me” was revived on Broadway in 1993 and in 2016, receiving eight Tony nominations in the latter incarnation.
The stage musical goes back further than that.
It’s based on the movie, “The Shop Around The Corner” (1940), a romantic comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart and Frank Morgan.
It goes back even further. The movie’s screenplay is based on a Hungarian play, “Parfumerie” (1937), by Miklós László.
“The Shop Around The Corner” became “In The Good Old Summertime” (1949), a movie musical directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson.
“You’ve Got Mail” (1998), directed by Nora Ephron and starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, was also inspired by “Parfumerie.”
Thanks to the cable TV channel, Turner Classic Movies, I’ve seen all three, “The Shop Around The Corner,” “In The Good Old Summertime” and “You’ve Got Mail,” numerous times.
Thanks to The Pennsylvania Playhouse, I’ve seen “She Loves Me,” which opened Dec. 7 and continues through Dec. 22.
The through-line for the plot is that two persons are attracted to the person with whom they are communicating but not the person in real life, who happens to be the same person.
No. it’s not an example of internet catfishing.
It might be an example of catnip, though.
“She Loves Me,” directed by Pennsylvania Playhouse Theater Administrator Rody Gilkeson, is a good choice for the holiday season.
“The very first scene is in autumn. And it quickly goes through fall,” says Gilkeson. “And by the third scene, you’re into the holiday season. And the show culminates on Christmas Eve.”
The show features one of the cleverest sets by Set and Lighting Designers Brett Oliveira and Kristen Wettstein that I’ve ever seen on the Pennsylvania Playhouse stage. The facade of the perfume shop is hinged such that the walls are divided in the middle to open up and fold back to backdrop the shop’s interior. The Playhouse crew does this quickly and efficiently. It’s fascinating to see every time it happens.
The Playhouse production takes place in the early 1940s with vintage attire for the men and vintage dresses for the women by Costume Designer Mary Catherine Bracali.
“There’s no specific date given in the script. So, we kind of went with pre-war,” explains Gilkeson, who previously directed “She Loves Me” at Notre Dame High School where he was director of theater for 18 years.
“I fell in love with the play. We went to see it on Broadway,” Gilkeson says of he and his wife, Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson, who plays the lead role of Amalia, the shop clerk in “She Loves Me.” Brian Houp plays Georg, the shop clerk.
The clerks dislike each other as co-workers, but like each other as letter-writers, not realizing they are one and the same.
The “She Loves Me” Playhouse cast includes Ted Williams (Sipos), Beth Sucro (Illona), Mike Corcoran (Kodaly), Josh Mitchell (Arpad), Paul Bonicci (Mr. Maraczek) and Jaedon Muhl (Head Waiter).
“It’s a very intimate show. At the playhouse, because we are so intimate, the show is such that you get drawn into the character’s lives. The audience becomes so much a part of it. You know that these characters are writing letters to each other and eventually will find out,” Gilkeson says.
“I think what’s it’s trying to say is that you don’t really know someone,” observes Gilkeson about the play’s storyline.
“It’s just like you don’t really know what the person is like on social media. In the show, they like each other in their letters. Once they get past their dislike for each other and see who the person really is, they see the persons in the letters are truly who they are.”
The takeaway, Gilkeson says, is “Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a person until you get to know them. And that’s what happens with these two people.
“It’s just a nice little story,” Gilkeson continues. “And the music and lyrics are top-notch. There’s not one song that doesn’t move the story along and give you an understanding of the characters. Every song is perfectly-placed.”
“The show has a lot of Christmas spirit. And magic happens at Christmas. And it happens for these two people.”
“She Loves Me,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21; 3 p.m. Dec. 22. Tickets: Pennsylvania Playhouse Box Office, 390 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem; paplayhouse.org; 610-865-1192