Quality Over Quality… She Loves Me at Mary Moody Northen by Pearson Kashlak

AAAAAIt never ceases to amaze me how much the level of production quality in a theatrical production can make a good script bad or a bad script good. It doesn’t matter how well Othello was       if the actors, directors, and designers have no idea what they’re doing. Similarly, I have enjoyed productions with bad scripts which make up for that shortcoming with high production values. It’s not a guarantee either way (and the best productions utilize both), but at the end of the day I’ll put more stock in production quality than script quality. With enough talent and passion artists can turn most shows into entertaining productions.

Set in 1930s Europe, She Loves Me is a musical romantic comedy by Joe Masteroff (Book), Jerry Bock (Music), and Sheldon Harnick (Lyrics) based on Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo (also the basis for the films: The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime, andYou’ve Got Mail) in which two perfume sales clerks who despise one another are unknowingly each other’s anonymous, romantic pen pal through a lonely-hearts ad. What follows is your typical miscommunication-based romp full of love, lies, and laughs.

The primarily student-acted production was contained a strong balance of vocal and acting

she loves me bret brookshire
St. Edward’s University’s theater department is producing “She Loves Me,” an award-winning musical with endearing innocence and old-world elegance. Photo by Bret Brookshire

talents, as well as St. Edward’s typical practice of including professional Equity actors. Among the student actors the two leads, Matt Buzonas (Georg Nowack) and Cheyenne Barton (Amalia Balish), definitely had the best balance of acting talent while speaking and vocal talent while singing. Both have a natural, young charm which juxtaposes well with their bitter chemistry towards one another. My only concerns with their onstage chemistry came from the source script seeming to force the initial animosity they share for plot convenience. Other than that preliminary road bump their interactions onstage all felt quite natural. Further commendations are given to Maureen Fenninger (Ilona Ritter) who easily gives one of the strongest performances, but has the unfortunate setback of not being integral enough to the main plot to have more songs. Though for the songs she’s given, “I Resolve” showcases the intensity Fenninger can muster, while “A Trip to the Library” shows off her delightful/comedic charms. I’m a little torn on Kenneth Hurley’s (Steven Kodaly) suave performance because, on one hand, the man sings beautifully and has a rich speaking voice, but, on the other hand, the grandiose manner in which he spoke, while fitting for the lighter moments, felt out of place for the solemn moments. His characterization of Kodaly may have been a little off, but he’ll make one hell of a Don Quixote someday.

As you might expect, the guest Equity actors had their roles spot on. Jarrett King (Ladislav Sipos) always offered his ebullient yet weary support to the rest of the cast in such a way as to make him a continual joy onstage, Ev Lunning Jr. (Mr. Maraczek) gracefully walked the lines between sympathetic and insensitive as well as strict and charitable, and finally Scott Shipman’s one scene as the supercilious Head Waiter was a brief but potent performance. As a whole, the ensemble was well-cast, well-blocked, and harmonized beautifully.

12931219_1129491467095174_6031725662247190819_nHaving previously seen only non-musical productions in the Mary Moody Northern Theatre, I was intrigued to see how director Nick Mayo planned to tackle the 360-degree arena stage for a musical. There’s no avoiding the inevitable restraints on the line-of-sight for the audience; no one is going to have a perfect view throughout. Scenic designer Leilah Stewart certainly made the right call in using minimal, easy-to-move set pieces that were low enough to the ground to prevent view blocking. However, She Loves Me is staged as well as one can hope for an arena stage. The musical numbers typically don’t utilize dance sequences, while still allowing for the energy of the actors to keep them moving on their feet, which was probably a good call. The dances that were choreographed by Danny Hermann and Rocker Verastique, particularly a rather rambunctious dance sequence near the end of act I (“A Romantic Atmosphere”), definitely kept the whole audience’s point of views in mind, but the constraints could definitely be felt. It’s tricky business. Having the perform on all sides at once is by no means an easy task, and I congratulate the cast and crew of She Loves Me for achieving as much as they could with the space provided.

As one may have intuited from the introduction of this review, I was no the biggest fan of She Loves Me’s script. The characters are mostly predictable, the melodies aren’t terribly memorable (and sometimes felt unneeded such as the simply-named Act II number “Where’s My Shoe?”), and anyone could guess every beat of the plot from the overture. Yet, the charismatic cast and crew of the production make it an enjoyable experience. Much like with Mary Moody’s recent production of Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play I found myself overlooking many of the script’s faults due to the superb quality of the production. And the more I think about it, even if they’re not my stories of choice, a romantic comedy is probably best suited in a musical. Both depend more on emotional connections rather than clever plots and characters.She Loves Me is definitely worth your time and attention, just don’t expect any Shakespeare-grade writing.

She Loves Me continues playing at the Mary Moody Northern Theatre at St. Edward’s University every Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm until April 17th.

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