July 5, 2008 performance (matinee) reviewed by Frances Benn Hall.
Williamstown Theatre’s new Artistic Director, Nicholas Martin, has opened the summer season on the Main stage with a knock-out production of She Loves Me that puts into play the absolutely marvelous stage-house of the theatre and all its equipment.
The vast height of the stage makes possible an on- stage orchestra up above the action taking place below. The revolving stage makes effortlessly possible the shifting setting of the numerous scnes especially that of the a perfume boutique in Budapest in 1934, (including exterior, interior (with front shop area, back shop area) while the rigging, far up in the fly area, supplies time changes from June to December as Fall leaves rain down or winter flurries fly.
And that is only the beginning. Windows descend from the fly area, partially masking the orchestra, but only putting them behind glass, for outdoor boutique scenes. And that revolving stage can also whirl in a night club. Other one-shot small scenes such as a hospital room (DR) or the heroine’s bedroom (in which of the funniest scenes of the play occurs) can erupt briefly from the wings before the revolving stage whirls us back to the boutique.
All these scenes are marvelously decorated and appointed by set designer James Noone, magnificently lit by Kenneth Rosenberg and Philip Rosenberg, and inhabited by a talented cast, joyously performing a little gem of a play.
She Loves Me is musical theatre at its best. And the actors, singers and dancers on the Williamtown stage for this performance are so perfectly cast, so buoyantly joyful in their production that a standing ovation at its ending seems scarcely adequate.
The plot seems on description harmlessly familiar and is deceptively so. The time is 1934 in Budapest (making it possible for Robert Morgan costume designer, on seemingly unlimited budget) to shine. Boutiques equate with richly garbed female customers expecting to be wooed by fawning clerks.
Among the fawning clerks are the shows leads, and their own concerns. Head clerk George Nowack (Brooks Ashmanskas , and new employee Amanda (Kate Baldwin) can’t stand each other in the flesh. However t hey are hopeful correspondents in an anonymous pen-pal venture.
This may sound like a familiar plot, but the antics that involve their non-meeting, disillusionment and eventual compatibility are anything but .
Their “romance” works itself out in a marvelously antic duet, “Where’s my Shoe” and culminates in George’s solo “She Loves Me” alone on a vast empty stage that he fills with wild action and dance interwoven with romantically gentle song. A bravo performance.
Jessica Stone as Ilona, head female clerk., is perhaps second female lead but vies as first with amazing solos in both acts. The store’s owner, Mr. Maraczek (Dick Latessa) and the wonderful bike-riding Arpad (Jeremy Berck) who rises from delivery boy to junior clerk Both inhabit their costumes and their roles with conviction. Jason Babinsky has a delightful solo as head waiter in a zany café scene in which too much occurs to be described but all of it choreographed .to perfection.
And then there are the five creatively inventive females who double in roles (and costumes) in and out of the entire play as customers and as femmes fatale in the café.
Musically the show provides solos, duets, quartets and big ensemble numbers. The one ending the second act includes the zaniest take off on the frantic activities of customers concerning the twelve days before Christmas, that is so delightful one wishes they could instantly repeat it so one could roar at it again.
Nicholas Martin, not only taking on the artistic director mantle this summer, has also found time to direct this delightful play. All in all a happy homecoming that bodes well for the summer of ’08 in Williamstown.
(Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson; used by permission of WTF.)