It seems that in the final weeks of the academic year, there are performances all over the place. On May 8 alone, we had the AAPI showcase, Olepalooza, preparations for “Comedy of Errors” and, in the evening, the Lyric Theater’s production of the 1963 Broadway hit “She Loves Me.”
“She Loves Me,” the third adaptation of the 1937 play “Parfumerie,” is a musical set in Budapest in 1934, taking place predominantly within a department store called Maraczek’s. The characters all work in the store, and the plot centers around each of their relationships with love. The main romance is between Georg Nowack (played by Andrew Decker ’23) and Amalia Balash (played by Mira Davis ’23). The two have an embattled relationship within the store, and each write unsigned love letters to their mysterious “dear friend.”
Unbeknownst to them, they are each other’s secret pen pals. Comedy and drama ensue.
The performances took place on May 7 and 8 in the Christiansen Hall of Music courtyard. The actors wore face shields with microphones attached to project their voices through the space while minimizing risks of COVID-19. Intentional or otherwise, the grainy sound of the PA system added to the period-piece element of the show — it was easy to imagine I was in 1930s Budapest.
Led by director Tamsin Olson ’21 and stage manager Hannah Summers ’22, the crew flourished at every step. The costumes were immersive, the transitions were efficient and the work of music director Courtney Talken ’22 played a huge role in the actors’ excellent vocal performances.
The leads were, of course, amazing, but the songs which got the largest response from the crowd were often performed by secondary side characters. “Perspective,” a character song for Sipos (played by Jacob Thompson ’24), elicited huge laughter from the audience as the old married man and store clerk explained how he has swallowed all pride and self respect to thrive in his customer service job.
Similarly, “A Romantic Atmosphere,” a song that sets the scene of a romantic restaurant, led by a neurotic waiter (played by William McIntrye ’23), was a highlight. The waiter’s conceited personality was funny in and of itself — he threatens to kick out patrons who aren’t appropriately romantic — but the production’s treatment of characters like the waiter highlighted the ensemble-focused nature of “She Loves Me.”
I could have just as easily focused on the fantastic songs about the relationship between naive cashier Ilona Ritter (played by Abby Wilson ’21) and notable slimeball Steven Kodaly (played by Jayden Browne ’23) — “Ilona,” “I Resolve” and “A Trip to the Library;” or the songs about store owner Mr. Maraczeck (Aidan Sivers-Boyce ’22) and delivery-girl Arpad Laszlo (Maeve Carroll ’24).
The extent to which these archetypical Broadway characters and songs could still connect with a 2021 audience is surprising. Certainly the skill of the crew and actors were primarily responsible for this fact. Perhaps also, though, the play’s commentary about the frustrations of working at a department store provides a critical angle that we college students appreciate. Similarly, the idea of being in love with someone you haven’t met might connect with us more strongly in our age of online dating, social distancing and Stoflirts than it did even in 1963.