- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

No need for candy canes. Olney Theatre Center's production of "She Loves Me" provides all the sweetness required for the holiday season.
The combination of a fetching score, excellent voices, swirly staging and period-perfect costumes would make the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical a delight in any season, but it's a special treat this time of year.
Movie fans will remember the story created by Hungarian writer Miklos Laszlo in 1937 as being most recently adapted as the 1998 romantic comedy "You've Got Mail," starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Before that, it was the Ernest Lubitsch-directed MGM hit "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940), with Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullavan and Frank Morgan, and it was remade in 1949 as "In the Good Old Summertime," starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson.
Set during the Christmas rush at Maraczek's Parfumerie in 1930s Budapest, "She Loves Me" tells the Cyranoesque tale of two people who fall in love through words. They know each other only in letters written to "Dear Friend," and the anonymity gives them unparalleled insight into their hearts and souls.
In real life, Georg (Stephen F. Schmidt) and Amalia (Peggy Yates) work together in Maraczek's and get on each other's nerves unaware they are pen pals.
Georg discovers the true identity of his "dear friend," and once he gets over the shock, he contrives to show his true self to Amalia. Amid the holiday frenzy and minicrises in the shop, the two fall in love.
The score is romantic and lilting, although many of the songs sound alike. Expect a lot of crashing violins as they conclude. Among the winners are the wistful "Days Gone By," sung by the aging Mr. Maraczek (Harry A. Winter); "I Don't Know His Name," performed with soaring passion by Miss Yates; and "Will He Like Me?" also by Miss Yates, who, as you might have guessed by now, has a remarkable voice.
Yet the catchiest songs are the comedic ones. They employ a zesty range of musical styles and clever rhymes. Ilona Ritter (Sherri Edelen), a shopgirl constantly being used by men, has two terrific tunes, "Resolve" (in which she vows to stop being a doormat) and "A Trip to the Library" (in which she meets a good man and learns the value of a good book). Miss Edelen sings the blue blazes out these numbers, exhibiting a deft touch with humor that is never overdone.
Miss Yates also gets her lighter moments in "No More Candy," in which she hard-sells a cigarette box as a diet aid, and "Vanilla Ice Cream," in which, with sweetly mocking operatic tones, she responds to Georg's bringing her a gift. The shop's signature tune, "Thank You, Madam," will remind you pleasantly of old radio jingles.
What is particularly appealing about "She Loves Me" is how it reminds you of a gentler time, when people helped each other on and off with their coats, when women wore hats and gloves, when shops delivered and couples courted over ice cream and "Anna Karenina."
The sighing romanticism is emphasized by the sherbet-colored set by James Kronzer, which makes you wistful for the days of small shops and excellent service, and Howard Vincent Kurtz's beautifully tailored costumes. Director Jim Petosa keeps the action light and swirling prettily, emphasizing the various yearnings of the characters by creating a tension between courtliness and desire.
"She Loves Me" is an ideal show for this year especially. It takes us back to a sweeter time perfumed with promise.


WHAT: "She Loves Me"
WHERE: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney
WHEN: Through Dec. 30; times vary throughout the holiday season
TICKETS: $15 to $34
PHONE: 301/924-3400
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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