Discovering a polished gem in Infinity's 'She Loves Me'
By By Mary Johnson and For The Baltimore Sun
Jul 18, 2013 at 4:23 PM
Infinity Theatre Company is capping its third season with a polished production of a largely unknown gem, "She Loves Me," continuing into early August.
Co-producing artistic directors Anna Roberts Ostroff and Alan Ostroff present a musical with a large score of 20 enchanting songs. This classic romance premiered on Broadway in 1963 and is a perfect blending of music, words and story by composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick. Those names should be familiar: They created "Fiddler on the Roof," which arrived on Broadway one year later.
"She Loves Me" may have none of "Fiddler's" blockbuster songs, but some tunes will be familiar, especially the title song.
The show is about shop workers who unexpectedly find extraordinary romance while revealing a variety of secrets in a series of fast-paced, entertaining scenes.
Based on Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo's charming story, "She Loves Me" is set in a 1930s European perfume shop owned by Mr. Maraczek, where Georg Nowak is employed as chief clerk. When Amalia Balash applies for a job as sales clerk, she and Georg immediately dislike each other, neither suspecting the identity of the other as their beloved anonymous lonely-hearts pen pal.
Laszlo's story became the basis of the 1940 James Stewart movie "The Shop Around the Corner" and the 1998 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie "You've Got Mail."
This story's musical version is enhanced by European waltzes such as Maraczek's turn in "Days Gone By" and Balash's "Will He Like Me?" as well as tangos as heard in the cafe song "A Romantic Atmosphere." There are also charming introspective songs, including "I Don't Know His Name" and "Tonight at Eight," all smartly delivered.
The Ostroffs have again selected a brilliant production team headed by director-choreographer Andrew Rasmussen, known for directing innovative projects and making a spectacular Infinity debut with an ideally cast group of players. The troupe forms an ensemble that shines brightly as chorus dancers, in solo dance moves and as a harmonious chorus. Each action-packed scene builds a nostalgic old-world atmosphere spiced with humor and romantic intrigue.
Now completing his third season with Infinity, scenic designer Anshuman Bhatia creates a genteel European perfume shop that is totally functional, instantly appearing as outdoor walls are unfolded and disappearing equally fast.
Returning lighting designer Jimmy Lawlor again adds magic on stage, especially in atmospheric outdoor scenes that depict all seasons in varied times of day. And costume designer Tristan Raines adds romance to the authentic garb worn by leading ladies and ensemble players.
Infinity's production features Adam Harrington as Georg Nowack and Analisa Leaming as Amalia Balash. Harrington is a triple talent — a singing actor with stylish dance moves — who may remind the audience of Stewart. His joyous rendition of the title song becomes an exciting peak of the show.
As Amalia, Leaming delivers on every level, defining charm, smarts and vulnerability laced with comedic talent. She has a classic Broadway voice, doing justice to romantic ballads as well as up-tempo songs. Her performance of "Will He Like Me?" is a musical high point in a series that includes "Vanilla Ice Cream" and a duet with Georg, "Try Me."
Another workplace romance on the stage evolves between suave, ambitious, philandering sales clerk Steven Kodaly and gullible shop cashier Ilona Ritter. As the roguish Kodaly, Matthew Amira is smarmy but undeniably attractive, and possesses notable vocal skills.
As Ilona, Jackie Washam is comically flighty, spunky and stunning in delivering "I Resolve," and especially in her showstopping "A Trip to the Library," in which she relates discovering her ideal mate: an optometrist who reads to her the entire night.
As shop owner Mr. Maraczek, Dick Decareau conveys the boss' strong leadership and gentle nostalgia for earlier days and relationships, as well as an innate decency. His delivery of "Days Gone By" is touching.
Mark Fishback, as Georg's friend and assistant Ladislav Sipos, is a constant delight. His song, "Perspective," amusingly describes a family man coping with reality. Also noteworthy is Matthew Patrick Quinn, who brings sophistication, charm and notable comedic skills to his role as the head waiter.
As messenger and would-be sales clerk Arpad Laszlo, Jimmy Mavrikes — Infinity's acting intern last season — delivers all that is required. This summer's intern, Lauren Wright, impresses on stage as a strolling violinist.
Contributing to the overall excellence of this production are six fabulous musicians directed by pianist-conductor Tim Rosser.