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Theatre Review: She Loves Me

Rebecca Hitchcock -- The Tech
Steven Koday (Carson Schutze) attempts to woo Ilona Ritter (Sara Jo Elice '01) back by singing seductively.
By Vladimir Zelevinsky
STaff reporter

Music by Jerry Bock.

Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.

Book by Joe Masteroff.

Based on the play by Miklos Laszlo.

Directed by Natalie Garner '99.

Music directed by Matt Hanna '99.

Produced by Corey Gerritsen '02.

With Eugene Park '98, Cara Yara '97, Carson Schultz, Sara Jo Elice '01, Aditya Prabhakar '00, Seth Bisen-Hersh '01, John McKay '00, and others.

Presented by MIT Musical Theatre Guild.

La Sala de Puerto Rico

Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8P.M.

Tickets:$6 for MIT/Wellesley students, $8 MIT Staff and Faculty, Other Students, Senior Citizens and $9 General Admission

There's a basic showbiz rule to predict the overall quality of MTG productions: if the show is by Sondheim, it will be excellent; otherwise, it's rather likely to be a mixed bag, ranging somewhere between innocuously pleasant and head-scratchingly amateurish. About She Loves Me, well, I'd say it's far and above the best non-Sondheim MTG production I've seen.

The story, undoubtedly included by Alfred Hitchcock in his list of 27 basic plots, centers on two clerks in a small beauty supplies store, who are feuding in real life and exchanging passionate anonymous letters by night, without realizing that their mysterious correspondent is the person snarling at them from behind the opposite counter. Of course, as basic showbiz rules dictate, everything ends in the most satisfactory way.

For about a half of She Loves Me, this rule is somewhat affirmed, and the fault, dear readers, is in our stars. Both romantic leads (Eugene Park '98 playing Georg Nowack and Cara Yara '97 playing Amalia Balash) possess ample charisma and stage presence. Their voices are strong and they are highly convincing as sympathetic characters, Yara as a hopeful romantic and Park as a decent everyman. All is fine here; what is not fine is the fact that these two characters are supposed to hate each other. This dislike feels utterly fake and the show itself, which is content to state this dislike rather than demonstrate it, is of no help either, by and large preferring big chorus numbers to true theatrical action.

My heart was sinking every time I would wish for some more character development and all I would get was another song. For most of the first act I found myself caring more about the secondary couple, Steven Kodaly (Carson Schultz) and Ilona Ritter (Sara Jo Elice '01), because their feuding mostly didn't feel fake. Ritter, by the way, also has the best song of the first act, the irresistible I Resolve.

To be fair, even during the portions of the first act when the action feels fake, She Loves Me is still pleasant to watch. The major reason for this is that the staging displays quite a few instances of exciting whimsy and creativity such as an innovative staging, with the audience seats surrounding the stage on all four sides, or the beautiful stage device showing the change of seasons.

On the other hand, there are also quite a few strange decisions which simply refuse to work, such as way-too-frequent set changes, or giving the song Sounds while Selling, with its intricate pattern of overlapping lines, to a group of singers of wildly varying strengths.

She Loves Me goes on like that until the last scene of first act, where things start happening in a rather unpredictable way. This change in tone is ushered in by a big splashy dance number at a restaurant. Both the transition to it and the dance itself are weird, abrupt, and rather nonsensical; compared with the prior hour of rather placid events, it feels like a breath of fresh air. It certainly helps that the next scene, the conversation between Georg and Amalia, is just about the best-written scene in the whole show, mixing romantic yearning with true heartbreak; when the waiter picks up the rose from the floor, it says more than any romantic ballade could.

After this we have the second act, which, to put it succinctly, works, with all the disparate elements that didn't gel before starting to play off and enrich each other. Arpad Laszlo (Seth Bisen-Hersh '01), who spent the first act lurking around the periphery, suddenly bursts into a fully realized character, and he's a lot of fun to observe. There's an impressive quartet of showstopping songs, Where's My Shoe?, Vanilla Ice Cream, the titular ballade, and amusingly scored A Trip to the Library; and very few awkward big vocal numbers get in the way of the characters.

Most importantly, the very thing that worked against the leads in the first act their immense likability is used to the utmost advantage here; freed from the requirements of acting decent but dislikable, they excel at playing a couple in love. The culmination of the love story, in the very last scene, while a touch abrupt, is very lovely.

Add to this highly consistent and interesting music (the band is also good, with most of the solos very impressive), and excellent costume design, and the result is strong enough to make one forget the problems of the first act. I chose to think of the first hour as a rather extended prologue.

By the way, the next MTG show, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is written by Sondheim, and if the rule above works, we're in for a fun show.