Darren Bluestone and Avrielle Corti in She Loves Me. Photo by John Dlugolecki.Sheldon Harnick is having a moment. The 94-year-old lyricist and composer will be feted on Monday (Nov. 12) by the Dramatists Guild Foundation in New York. His award-winning plays are perennial productions. He co-wrote She Loves Me with Jerry Bock the year before their Fiddler on the Roof became the first play in Broadway history to surpass 3,000 performances.
She Loves Me is based on the 1937 play Parfumerie, which became two 1940s films: The Shop Around the Corner and In the Good Old Summertime. (And the newest version, You’ve Got Mail brought the story into the ‘90s.)
The story is familiar: two pen pals fall in love through their correspondence, but despise each other IRL. In the current revival at the Actor’s Co-op in Hollywood, director Cate Caplin and the cast entice the audience to root for the inevitable “aha!” moment.
Action takes place mostly in a high-end department store in 1934 Budapest, but beyond a fun Hungarian folk dancing bit and some great violin work by the talented orchestra, there’s little to place the action anywhere specific. It’s all about the characters, and Joe Masteroff’s book gives them delicious quirks.
Avrielle Corti as the lovelorn Ilona is a standout; her song “I Resolve” is a highlight of the show. Darren Bluestone as the womanizing Steven, who has a hold on Ilona’s heart, is a song-and-dance man in the classic mode. Claire Adams, so strong in Violet earlier this year, struggles with some of the high notes but plays lead Amalia with great appeal. Kevin Shewey, as her beloved correspondent and detested co-worker Georg, shines, especially in the title song.
The familiar storyline makes the ending a foregone conclusion, but the journey is a lark. Fabulous period costumes by Michael Mullin add to the joy. The clever scenic design by Stephen Gifford works like a box with secret compartments, transforming beautifully for multiple locations.
Ending on a note of Christmas shopping, She Loves Me is an ideal holiday show.
She Loves Me runs Fridays through Sundays through Dec. 16 at the David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St. It has a running time of 2 hours 15 minutes, including an intermission. Show times are Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm, Sunday at 2:30. No shows Thanksgiving weekend. Special Saturday matinee on Nov. 17 at 2:30. Tickets available at www.actorsco-op.org.