She Loves Me

A show like the 1963 musical “She Loves Me” doesn’t get performed very often. And while it’s nice to see something other than “Harvey,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Forever Plaid” being performed in Utah, there’s also a certain amount of trepidation associated with seeing a relatively obscure play like this.

Is there a REASON no one ever performs it? Maybe it’s GOOD that I’ve never heard of it….

Such fears can be laid to rest, though. “She Loves Me,” being performed through Dec. 19 at Salt Lake Community College’s Grand Theatre, is the very definition of “pleasant surprise.” Rarely have I seen a show that was so unabashedly happy, upbeat, and downright perky without also being annoying.

The show’s innocence and merriment works to its advantage, as it makes the huge plot contrivances and weird turns of events easily forgivable. Pointing them out would be like kicking a puppy.

Set, for no discernible reason, in Europe in the ’30s, the musical is about a group of employees at Maraczek’s Parfumerie (that’s a shop that sells perfume, soap and other beauty products, by the way). Georg Nowack (Dan Larrinaga) has been having a romantic pen-pal relationship with a gal he’s never seen, whom he met through a personals ad. They don’t even know each other’s names — and so imagine our surprise when we discover, before they do, that the woman is Amalia Balash (Kristine Jorgensen), the new employee at the shop. As you might surmise, Amalia and Georg hate each other, not realizing that they actually love each other (at least through the mail).

It’s an interesting ’30s twist on the ’90s online romance phenomenon, and it’s remarkably similar to the upcoming Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film “You’ve Got Mail.”

Anyway, while all this is going on, we see the lives of the other employees. Steven Kodaly (Jared Brubaker) and Ilona Ritter (Brenda Cowley) have been dating, though Steven’s a jerk who has been cheating on her. Arpad Laszlo (Jason Zambos) is a delivery boy who wants to become a sales clerk. And Mr. Maraczek (Jonathan Klint) has troubles at home. The plots don’t ever tie in together, nor do they really work toward a common theme — nor does there even seem to BE a theme — but that’s all OK. The show, directed by Toni Byrd, is funny, entertaining, sweet and good-natured. It’s not mindless entertainment, but neither is it particularly significant. It’s just THERE, an enjoyable diversion, a pleasant way to spend an evening.

The music, conducted by Anne Puzey, is catchy and lively, and there’s lots of it — nearly everything is sung, and sung well by the talented cast. One song has three salesclerks helping three female customers, and we hear snippets of each of the conversations amusingly juxtaposed: “I would like an eyebrow / Under my / Chin,” for example. There are no major show-stoppers — even the musical’s title song doesn’t get much fanfare — but everything is hummable and will get your toes tapping. Even if you can’t remember any particular tunes, I guarantee you’ll walk out of the theater with a spring in your step.

Solid performances, a breezy storyline and whimsical music make “She Loves Me” one of the better theatrical productions this month.

Oddly, this very enjoyable musical came from the same people who created the easy-to-make-boring, too-long-yet-inexpicably-popular "Fiddler on the Roof." I don't know why "She Loves Me" isn't performed more often. It's not especially difficult to stage, and it's a perfectly good script and score and all. I hereby call for less "Forever Plaid" and more "She Loves Me."

I mention in this review that the plot of "She Loves Me" is similar to that of the 1998 film "You've Got Mail." I later learned that "She Loves Me" was directly based on the old Jimmy Stewart/Maureen O'Hara movie "The Shop Around the Corner" ... of which "You've Got Mail" was a remake. (Notice Meg Ryan's character's bookshop was called "The Shop Around the Corner," in honor of the earlier film.) So it wasn't just a coincidence that "She Loves Me" was so similar. It all makes sense now.