Sunday, April 10, 2016

Faulkner: "She Loves Me"

She Loves Me, the sweet 1963 Joe Masterhoff-Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock musical adaptation of Miklos Laszlo's Parfumerie [perhaps best known for the 1940 Ernest Lubitch film "The Shop Around the Corner" starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan] is the last production of the Faulkner University Dinner Theatre's 2015-2016 season.

Opening night played to an almost full house who clearly appreciated the vocal strengths of director Jason Clark South's ensemble of Faulkner students, alumni, and local actors.

Staged on Matt Dickson's colorful flexible set, the action takes place mostly in a 1930s Budapest parfumerie, where George [George Scrushy] and Amalia [Brittney Johnston] -- whose clash of personalities on their first meeting is a clear signal that they must fall in love by the end of the second act -- display old-fashioned storytelling at its best that is matched by a lyrical score, played here in a recorded sound-track that, with over-amplified and frequent static-riddled microphones for the actors, unfortunately muddies the sound.

This notwithstanding, the acting and singing are uniformly strong, from Hunter Lee Smith's naive and bright-eyed delivery boy Arpad singing "Try Me" in his effort to become a salesman in the shop, to Morgan Baker's credible good-guy Sipos whose "Perspective" adds a bit of reason to the lovers' dilemma, to Chris Kelly's subtly sleazy playboy Kodaly who enlivens things even as he is caught out in a sarcastic rendition of "Grand Knowing You", to Tony Davison's impressive shop owner Mr. Maraczek, who suspects that George is having an affair with Mrs. Maraczek, and whose controlled nostalgic delivery of "Days Gone By" is touching.

Special notice is due to three of the principal actors. Mattie Earls is always on target as Miss Ritter, the sometime lover of Kodaly; her vocal delivery is flawless, and is delivered with remarkable stage presence that earns audience connection, especially in Act II's "A Trip to the Library" where she asserts her independence from Kodaly.

Together, Mr. Scrushy and Ms. Johnston engage us with their story: each has a secret pen-pal in answer to a lonely hearts advertisement, writing letters to "Dear Friend" and oblivious to the fact they are writing to one another while continuing their workplace feud. -- When they agree to meet their "Dear Friend" and eventually fall in love in earnest, all ends happily for them as it must.

On the way, audiences are treated to some fine singing. Mr. Scrushy's youthful voice is developing well and his interpretation of the lyrics is excellent. His unabashed delight in the title song, "She Loves Me" is infectious. Ms. Johnston's clear soprano has hardly been better than here as she asserts herself in "No More Candy", breaks your heart in "Dear Friend", and effortlessly reaches into her high register in "Vanilla Ice Cream".

She Loves Me is a delightful way to end Faulkner's current season -- a tribute to Springtime and young love.