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Silhouette Stages’ production of ‘She Loves Me’ in Columbia is a love letter to the audience

“She Loves Me” involves creative material that has been around the corner more than a few times, but it’s such a charming musical comedy that it’s really welcome to have it winning hearts all over again at Silhouette Stages.

It began life as a 1937 Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo titled “Parfumerie.” Once Hollywood got hold of the material, it produced the 1940 film “The Shop Around the Corner,” starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. Never shy about reworking material, Hollywood next produced a 1949 musical version, “In the Good Old Summertime,” with Judy Garland and Van Johnson.

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When Broadway in turn took an interest in it in 1963, the result was “She Loves Me.” This musical theater version does not share any of the same music as the 1949 Hollywood musical, but instead has music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, who went on to do pretty well for themselves with “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1964. The book for “She Loves Me” is by Joe Masteroff. The show did reasonably well at the Broadway box office.

The history of the show does not end there, however, because it received renewed attention in the 1970s. Locally, it was produced by Baltimore Center Stage in 1985. And, as just about everybody will know, the material was reincarnated in Hollywood yet again with the 1998 romantic comedy “You’ve Got Mail,” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. That most recent film version substituted email for the letter writing that set the original story in motion. So, this is a story that many theatergoers will recognize from one incarnation or another.

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One of the immediate pleasures of seeing “She Loves Me” at Silhouette Stages is realizing how nicely it immerses you in the original setting of a perfume shop in Budapest, Hungary in 1934. The set design by Nicholas Carter and Stephen Foreman cleverly and efficiently includes a wall that swings around to give us either the well-appointed interior of the perfume shop or the equally atmospheric street scene in front of the shop. The romantic complications mean the rotating wall will undergo a number of turns itself.

Likewise, in terms of establishing the period setting, Deana Cruz-Conner’s costumes, makeup and hair designs convincingly return us to an era when even working-class store clerks are so fashionably dressed that the concept of a casual Friday would be unknown to their workplace.

Enjoying the show is not just a matter of singing the praises of the scenery, however, because the large cast generally does justice to the numerous songs that fill the show. There is a graceful and playful quality to the music, and the cast persuasively conveys a light spirit.

Penned in the days when people wrote actual letters, “She Loves Me” essentially has a simple, pen pal-related premise leading to comic complications. Georg Nowack (Brad Davis) and Amalia Balash (Kelly Rardon) both work at the perfume shop. Each is engaged in writing courtship-level letters to an as-yet unmet “dear friend,” and neither, of course, realizes that they are writing to each other.

For the longest time Georg and Amalia squabble and express disdain for each other while on the job, meaning they are totally oblivious to the fact that they have been exchanging heartwarming letters. Well, the audience is itching for them to finally figure out who’s who and what’s what. It’s not exactly a spoiler to state that they will get everything cleared up by the end.

Davis has a secure grasp of Georg’s earnest personality, and he’s vocally consistent throughout the evening. By the time the actor gets to sing the title tune well into the second act, you’ll be rooting for him to solve the epistolary mystery.

Although Rardon gives an equally ardent performance as Amalia, her singing voice would benefit from some adjustment. It often seems like she’s forcing herself to aim high, whereas bringing it down a notch might be easier on our ears (and easier on her voice). That reservation aside, this production’s Georg and Amalia make for an appealing couple.

Besides co-designing the set, Foreman is the director and choreographer. He oversees the frequent scene changes with ease, and that sense of control extends to overseeing the orderly movement of the various store employees, customers, waiters and even Christmas carolers.

Among the supporting players, those making a zesty impression include Justin Diaz as Arpad Laszlo, an enthusiastic shop delivery boy. When Diaz expresses Arpad’s career ambitions in “Try Me,” it’s such a sincere moment that the actor nearly steals the show.

Others in the cast also have their share of engaging musical moments, but a performer who stands out for comic rather than vocal reasons is Michael Tan as a shop employee named Ladislav Sipos. Often without saying or singing anything, Tan’s face registers a whole symphony of emotions. He’ll bring a smile to your face, which, come to think of it, is something the show as a whole does quite well.

Silhouette Stages’ “She Loves Me” runs through Oct. 27 at Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. Go to silhouettestages.com.

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