REVIEW: ‘She Loves Me’ Directed by Nicole Helfer at Ross Valley Players co-produced with The Mountain Play Association – A Holiday Promise

“She Loves Me” Cast. Photo by Robin Jackson.

Our workdays can seem to be a little mundane through the year, with a daily routine of the same hours and chores at work. One would think that nothing ever happens to brighten up the days.  “She Loves Me” dispels that notion with loving overtones and a holiday promise of a sweet ending for Christmas. 

Ross Valley Players and The Mountain Play Association have put together a smooth mix of memorable singing, stylish costumes and attractive choreography.  This is a jewel box of surprises that accentuate the best from the cast in this collaboration.

Written in 1937 by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo, “She Loves Me” was first presented on Broadway in 1963 and the basic storyline has been made into at least three different films of different titles.  A Broadway revival in 2016 was the first Broadway show to be live-streamed.

Alex Cook as Arpad Laszlo. Photo by Robin Jackson.

We meet the characters in front of the Maraczek Parfumerie on a beautiful summer morning in Budapest in 1934.  Their delivery boy, Arpad Laszlo (played by Alex Cook) arrives on a white delivery bike.  Shop clerks Ladislzv Sipos (played by Patrick Barr), Ilona Ritter (played by Chelsey Ristaino), Steven Kodaly (played by Anthony Maglio) and Georg Nowack (played by Max Kligman) join Arpad to hang out before the day begins. 

Everyong jokes about leaving the shop for a day at the beach.  This does not last for long because the owner, Mr. Maraczek (played by Ron Dritz), arrives soon to open the shop.

Chelsey Ristaino as lona Ritter, Alex Cook as Arpad Laszlo, Ron Dritz as Mr. Maraczek. Photo by Robin Jackson.

When we enter the shop, the scene changes into a sparkling shop interior worthy of a 1930’s Budapest Perfumerie.  The shop activity is bright with songs and customers.  We follow the sales staff through their day and discover the major personal stories that define the plot along the way.  Amalia Balash (played by Marah Sotelo) enters the store looking for a job, with dramatic success.

Subsequent plots and subterfuge are best left to the viewer to enjoy, with one exception:   Georg is infatuated with a pen pal he calls “Dear Friend,” but does know who she is. We follow along with him in his search to meet her.

Anthony Maglio as Head Waiter, Chelsey Ristaino as a Club Patron. Photo by Robin Jackson.

Midway, the set changes into the Cafe Imperiale, an Art Deco restaurant with tables filled with very stylish ensemble.  Here, the two “Friend” pen pals are scheduled to meet for a first date.  The head waiter (played skillfully by Anthony Maglio) insists to one and all that they maintain a “romantic atmosphere” in spite of the busboy (played by Alex Munoz) dropping dishes at critical times.  The restaurant scene is delightful.

Anthony Maglio as Steven Kodaly, Chelsey Ristaino as Ilona Ritter. Photo by Robin Jackson.

The play works smoothly through the many personal detours of our characters with musical highlights along the way.  Sotelo’s “Vanilla Ice Cream” and “Where’s my Shoe” are gems of this show that will leave the theatre with you.  Barr’s clear “Perspective” tells us like it is for a family man.  Maglio’s “A Romantic Atmosphere” adds humor and passion to match the accompanying dance number, “Tango Tragique.”  We finally get through some of the “Twelve Days to Christmas” in a mad rush to close on Christmas Eve.

 

Marah Sotelo as Amalia Balash. Photo by Robin Jackson.

Tom O’Brien and Michael Walraven have created a clever set that allows the store, restaurant and Amalia’s bedroom to unfold easily to reveal the individual scenes.  The dull, gray exterior of the set was disappointing prior to the play beginning, but the different scenes break the monotony by opening into bright, Art Deco interiors.

The production runs very smoothly with the able direction of Director Nicole Helfer to tell this classic story easily for our enjoyment.  Helfer also choreographs some beautiful dances in the restaurant, including a wonderful cameo dance between Sophie de Marelos and the busboy, Alex Munoz.

Max Kligman as Georg, Nowack Patrick Barr as Ladislov Sipos. Photo by Robin Jackson.

I must compliment Barr for his character development and singing; his underlying sense of humor comes out in meaningful ways throughout the play.  Maglio plays the perfect “oily” Kodaly while doing double duty as a sarcastic Maitre D’ in the Cafe Imperiale.  Ristaino personifies both cold rejection and warm embrace through the show, taking us along for the ride with Kodaly

Sotelo and Kligman play fairly understated “Friends” looking for each other through the play.  They find each other eventually and close with a romantic ending for the holidays.

Some dialog was inaudible due to scene activity and the natural inclination to lower voice levels during emotional moments between characters.  Better microphones for the show might be advantageous in the future.  The sound system for the music, however, was excellent.

Ross Valley Players’ new seats and smaller house (99 seats) make seeing the play more enjoyable, but reservations are critical.  Make sure you reserve in advance and do not depend upon getting tickets at the door.

“She Loves Me” continues at the Ross Valley Players in Ross through December 22, 2019.  For further information: rossvalleyplayers.com

 Rating: ***1/2

“She Loves Me,” by Joe Masteroff, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock is produced by Ross Valley Players.  Director/Choreographer: Nicole Helfer. Music Director: Justin Pyne.  Scenic Designer: Tom O’Brien, Michael Walraven. Costume Designer: Michael A. Berg. Sound Designer: Billie Cox. Lighting Designer: Tina Johnson.

Cast: Arpad Laszlo: Alex Cook. Ladislov Sipos: Patrick Barr. Ilona Ritter: Chelsey Ristaino.  Steven Kodaly/Waiter: Anthony Maglio. Georg Nowack: Max Kligman. Mr. Maraczek: Ron Dritz. Amalia Balash: Marah Sotelo. Keller: Michael Walraven. Busboy: Alex Munoz. Ensemble: MacKenzie Cahill, Dana Cherry, Sophie de Morelos, Katie Rose.

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Author: Gary Gonser

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