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'She Loves Me' at Hale Centre Theatre presents 'charming' musical retelling of familiar tale

By Heather Hayes

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Aug. 17 2014 1:07 p.m. MDT

Updated: Sunday, Aug. 17 2014 1:07 p.m. MDT

Derek Smith as Georg Nowack and Amy Keeler as Amalia Balash in Hale Centre Theatre's production of "She Loves Me."

Hale Centre Theatre

WEST VALLEY CITY — Sparring shop employees unknowingly become fond pen pals and eventually fall in love. Sound familiar?

The story of Hale Centre Theatre’s upcoming musical, “She Loves Me,” which runs Aug. 19-Sept. 27 in West Valley City, is one with which audiences are well acquainted thanks to its many retellings in many different genres over the past 70 years.

If Miklos Laszio’s original play called “Parfumerie” doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps its cinematic offspring “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940), “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949) and, most recently, “You’ve Got Mail” (1998) will.

“Of all the ways it’s been retold, however,” director David Tinney said, “I think the musical version is the best.”

A Tony Award-winning Broadway hit with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick (“Fiddler on the Roof” lyricist), the “She Loves Me” adaptation of the classic tale has won hearts.

“It’s one of the most perfectly written musicals,” Tinney said. “The music reveals characters and relationships so beautifully and efficiently, it forwards plot and conflict, and nothing is extraneous or overt. It is such a subtle, charming piece.”

Music that drives the story is a special trait of “She Loves Me.” In many musicals, the songs act to buttress the story, temporarily pausing the plot. In “She Loves Me,” musical numbers drive the plot forward by giving crucial information.

David Smith, who just finished playing Bert in HCT’s “Mary Poppins,” is double-cast with Derek Smith in the lead male role, Georg Nowack.

“The music in this show propels the story because each song is a character's inner monologue,” Smith explained. “We really hear their deepest thoughts and desires, and when set to music, the emotions of these characters really connect to the audience.”

The tale revolves around Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash, two bickering co-workers at a 1930s Budapest perfumery who each find solace in an anonymous romantic pen pal they’ve found through a “lonely hearts” advertisement in the newspaper.

Although their co-workers suspect that, deep down, Georg and Amalia have feelings for each other, no one dares to suggest it.

Finally, the anonymous pen pals decide to meet, and Amalia arranges a way for her “dear friend” (as they call each other in their correspondences) to easily identify her at the Cafe Imperiale: She will carry a copy of “Anna Karenina” and a rose. When Georg enters and sees Amalia before she sees him, he realizes immediately that she is his pen pal.

Flustered and confused, Georg pretends instead that he has simply happened upon Amalia, and he teases her while she waits for her date, who, of course, never arrives.

Now enlightened, Georg begins to see Amalia in a new light. When she becomes ill, she is touched by his concerned visit and gift, and, still unaware that Georg is her “dear friend,” she finds herself falling for him.

The rest is history.

Amy Keeler and Rachel Hansen are cast as Amalia on alternating nights.

“The music, and the show itself, is absolutely toward the top of my favorites in musical theater,” said Keeler, a familiar face at HCT for her lead roles in past productions, including “Ragtime.”

Her attachment to the show is due to the production’s distinctive personality.

“It is a very rare experience to have such a small cast in musical theater. There are only five women, for instance, so the audience really gets to know and love each individual character,” she said. “Their hopes, quirks, insecurities and pasts all unravel to the audience through the music.”

Hansen, who played the role of Cosette in HCT’s “Les Miserables” earlier this season, said she believes the music will win the hearts of the audiences.

“The songs are delightful and catchy,” she said. “I think people will go home humming.”

If you go …

What: “She Loves Me”

Where: Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City

When: Aug. 19-Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinees at 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.

How Much: $27 for adults, $16 for children ages 5-11

Phone: 801-984-9000

Website: hct.org

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