SUMMIT, NJ – With only one more weekend to see this charming musical at The Summit Playhouse, it’s well worth your time to seek out “She Loves Me” on May 17 or 18 at 8 p.m. or Sunday, May 19, at 2 p.m.
The play, set in 1937, has a long history, first as “The Perfumerie,” set in Budapest, by Hungarian playwright Mikos Laszio. Then there was a film version “The Shop Around the Corner” with James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan and on to the Broadway musical, with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. The book is by Joe Masteroff, who later wrote the book for “Cabaret.” The theme of anonymous pen pals was made into a 1998 film, “You’ve Got Mail,” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. As director Lynn Polan says in program notes, the appeal of this romance, with two antagonists who eventually fall in love, is simply irresistible.
And the production in Summit is pure delight. Jessica Albano as Amalia Balash is the new employee at the shop. Her voice is lilting and simply soars with “Vanilla Ice Cream” and “Dear Friend.” Albano and Colleen Renee as Islona Ritter have a priceless duet with “I Don’t Know His Name.” Renee is perfectly cast is the sexy colleague who can’t help falling for the wrong man, in this case, the slippery Kodaly, suavely delivered by Joey Tible.
Michael King is the shop owner, Mr. Maracek. His highly entertaining “Days Gone By” is another winner, complete with intricate dance movements on the small stage. King also sets the tone for all the high energy moments to come. Choreographer Megan Ferentinos deserves kudos for her innovative approach, including the rush of customers that storm the shop just before Christmas.
Stephen Kaplan is Georg Nowak, the employee who is really Amalia’s anonymous ‘dear friend.’ When he finally comes to know her as desirable rather than as an antagonist, he is overjoyed, belting out the title song, “She Loves Me,” all exuberant with fresh discovery. Joseph Schmidt is excellent as Georg’s friend and colleague. When he sings “Perspective,” about trying to please the person you work for and how you keep your inner feelings well hidden, it’s something plenty of people can identify with.
Chance Friedman is having fun as Arpad Laszlo, eventually promoted from delivery boy to sales clerk in the shop. Busboy Charley Baird-Hassel also has his moments as a clumsy restaurant worker. Christopher Williams as the Head Waiter. While having only one major scene, “A Romantic Atmosphere,” he makes his appealing voice and presence memorable. Then there’s a strong supporting cast of customers: Jeslyn Wheeless, Emma Peterson, Nicole Basile, Mary Elizabeth Gismonde, Frank Riccobono and Bob Velaquez. The shop’s employees are on their toes with “Good Morning, Good Day” as customers come and leave the store.
Roy Pancirov’s set design is clever, with moveable walls to show us the outside of the shop, the interior, a restaurant, bedroom and stock room. Ann Lowe’s costumes reflect a 1930’s feel and Wendy Roome’s lighting enhances the various moods and moments.
Still, all those decisions that make this show sparkle so brilliantly, ultimately fall on the director. Polan has found numerous nuances in this love story, keeping it all lively and fresh, truly a joy to behold. Last Saturday’s performance was sold out, so don’t delay in ordering tickets. Call 908-273-2192 or visit TheSummitPlayhouse.org. The theatre is located at 10 New England Avenue, next door to The Grand Summit Hotel.