Good and Gay

With Arena Stage's delightful production of 'She Loves Me,' we're reminded of just how gay musical theater can be

She Loves Me is a gay old time: It’s light, funny and has a happy ending. In other words, it’s perfect for the holidays. It’s also a brilliant reminder of just how gay musical theater can be. From the moment the first actor appears, jumping and twirling around the stage, it’s clear that a lot of campy dance and musical numbers are in store.

She Loves Me is a familiar story: Boy meets girl, boy hates girl, boy is mean to girl… you see where this is headed. Namely, happily ever after. Watching the show is the equivalent of walking through the woods on a spring day with a bluebird singing on your shoulder.

The show was created by Broadway veterans better-known for other works. Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof) wrote the music and lyrics, while the book is by Joe Masteroff (Cabaret). But despite not having the same reputation as Fiddler or Cabaret, She Loves Me turns out to be a touching story ably told through enduring songs and a catchy score. It’s a reminder of the best that Broadway had to offer in the 1960s.



Mistletoe moment: Steven Kodaly and Lemenager
(Photo by Scott Suchman)

Inspired by a Hungarian play written by Miklos Laszlo, She Loves Me takes place in a 1930s parfumerie in Budapest. Two rival salespeople, Georg (Kevin Kraft) and Amalia (Brynn O’Malley), keep at each other’s throats, all the while writing love letters to mysterious amours. It turns out, of course, they’re writing to each other.

If the plot sounds familiar, the same play also inspired the Jimmy Stewart classic, The Shop Around the Corner, Judy Garland’s In The Good Old Summertime, and, regrettably, the more contemporary You’ve Got Mail.

O’Malley truly shines through numbers such as ”Where’s My Shoe?” and ”Vanilla Ice Cream,” songs that could easily epitomize the worst of musical theater — singing where no song belongs — but rather cement the show as a classic. Kraft is equally compelling and sustains a great chemistry with O’Malley through the transition from enemies to lovers.

A strong supporting cast rounds out Arena’s production. As Amalia and Georg dance their tango around each other, Steven Kodaly (Sebastian La Cause) and Ilona Ritter (Nancy Lemenager) are ending their horizontal mambo. Turns out that Kodaly is a lecherous slug, wooing the boss’s wife while sleeping with his colleague. La Cause is equal parts handsome, charming, slimy and slick.

As the jilted lover, Lemenager manages to be both sympathetic and strong, traits needed to perform numbers such as ”I Resolve” and ”A Trip to the Library”. Since it’s obvious that Amalia is going to get her man, it’s rooting for Ilona that really matters during the show.

SHE LOVES ME
To Dec. 31
Arena Stage
$56-$75
202-488-3300

Also notable: Arena mainstay J. Fred Shiffman, who remains entertaining as the head waiter of a ”romantic” restaurant, being both bitchy and nurturing to Amalia when she thinks her mystery man has stood her up.

While the songs sung by the supporting cast slow down the show’s pace a tad too much at times, director Kyle Donnelly averts disaster by rushing the audience back to the main plot. Fortunately, Donnelly gives enough weight to these subplots, which contain the only intrigue and darkness in the show, to avoid having to provide insulin shots during intermission.

Set designer Kate Edmunds uses the Fichandler’s in-the-round stage to its full potential. In particular, her display cases rising out of the floor create an ideal interior for the parfumerie, allowing for fast and distinct transitions. It’s the final crowning touch on a terrific show.

She Loves Me is a classic. A fun frolicking production, there’s something for everyone in the family. While your parents will love the light-hearted story, you’ll be snickering from the first twirl to the last.

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