Saturday, June 16, 2018
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'She Loves Me!' brings surprise romance to Richey Suncoast Theatre

If you loved Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan's You've Got Mail, Judy Garland and Van Johnson's In the Good Old Summertime or James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan's The Shop Around the Corner, you'll just adore the rom-com musical, She Loves Me!, playing Thursday and weekends through Sept. 30 at Richey Suncoast Theatre.

All four shows are based on Hungarian writer Miklos Laszlo's 1938 play, Parfumerie, the tale of shop employees George Nowack and Amalia Balash, who constantly quarrel at work, but find solace in their secret pen pals, who turn out to be — well, you know the rest.

The 1964 stage musical version was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and won the 1994 Drama Desk Award for Best Musical Revival. It has become a favorite in regional and community theaters, though it hasn't been produced in this area in recent memory.

In it, shop manager George (Chris Cavalier, Emcee in Cabaret) oversees employees of the imperious owner, Mr. Maraczek (George Morgan). They include womanizing seducer Steven Kodaly (Keith Surplus, Johnny in Unsinkable Molly Brown), the love-hungry Ilona Ritter (Beth Phillips, Sally in Cabaret), family man and everybody's pal, Ladislav Sipos (Nathan Sakovich, Charlie in The Foreigner), and hard-working delivery boy Arpad Lazlo (Mike Mekus, Chip in Spelling Bee at Stage West Community Playhouse).

As the shop opens, in comes a nervous young woman, Amalia (Megan Gillespie, Molly in Molly Brown, Ariel in Footloose). George assumes she's a customer, but Amalia is really looking for a job. She impresses Mr. Maraczek, who hires her.

Almost immediately, George and Amalia start fussing, even as they daydream about their secret pen pals who hold the promise of true love.

As Christmas nears and customers swarm in and out, tensions rise, and Mr. Maraczek comes close to firing George. Kodaly makes a move on Miss Ritter, and Amalia finally makes an "in person" date with her secret pen pal, but it all starts falling apart when Mr. Maraczek orders everyone to stay late to decorate the shop. Capping it all, a detective arrives to reveal to the harried shop owner that his wife has a boyfriend.

From there, it can only get more complicated, but, after many twists and turns, finally works out in pleasantly surprising ways.

The show features music by Jerry Bock with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, who are perhaps best known for their collaborations on Fiddler on the Roof and Fiorello! The show has about two dozen of their songs and, like Fiddler and Fiorello!, She Loves Me! emphasizes story and song over big production numbers.

Peter Nason, who directed the theater's 2011 production of Cabaret, is the director.

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