“Good morning, good day!” So begins the best classic musical you’ve never heard of. And to quote a musical you probably have heard of: “And what a lovely morning!” (cue tap dance). If you do know
She Loves Me is based on a Hungarian play, which became the classic film The Shop Around the Corner, later remade as You’ve Got Mail. The plot’s a classic: perky shopgirl Amalia Balash and nervous clerk Georg Nowack both join a lonely hearts club. They write letters to “Dear Friend,” whom they’ve never met in person. Sparks fly in the shop where they both work—and who should “Dear Friend” turn out to be? What makes She Loves Me such a gem is the truly gorgeous, hummable music and warm, idiosyncratic characters.
The accompaniment here is just an arrangement for a single piano, but it’s more than serviceable. The set is a bit of a mess—there’s nothing to give a show an amateur flair like poorly applied glitter—but otherwise things look very good. Care’s been put into the costumes and all the choreography fits in neatly, though the young cast is sometimes a bit too frenetic and shuffling in their movements.
Jon Bisby has a fine, mature voice as Georg. For some reason, the cast seem divided on the issue of accents. Some of the actors (Bisby among them) seem to believe all musicals require American accents, while others (the leading ladies among them) stick to their natural English accents. Luke Malone is convincingly elderly as shop owner Mr. Maraczek and all the male cast members in general do a good job of speaking and singing with voices that are still developing. Will Trafford is an absolute standout as bumbling clerk Sipos. He’s got perfect comic timing and can parlando with all the aplomb of Rex Harrison. Slightly younger cast member Louie Pollard makes an adorable Arpad (the delivery boy). Abby Purdy does a fine job as Amalia. She’s got a difficult soprano part to sing and it’s reassuring to see that Stage by Stage haven’t pushed her too hard—her voice is natural and supported. Laura Porter is absolutely wonderful as the ditzy, loveable Ilona Ritter. Porter knows how to sell the character both in song and dialogue. She’s immensely likeable and Alex Jackson is appropriately menacing as Stephen Kodaly. The chorus does their best with some admittedly tricky parts though overall some numbers need more balance and blend. Erin Santillo’s willowy, wild-eyed maître-d makes the café scene absolutely crackle with energy; he’s superb.
On the whole, it’s a thoroughly commendable production. Anyone who loves She Loves Me (in other words, anyone who’s seen it) will be thrilled to see young actors handling the show with such warmth and grace.