In the age of online dating, the idea of a “lonely hearts club” via snail mail seems like an old-fashioned premise for a musical for today. However, the cast and crew of Broad Brook Opera House’s production of She Loves Me does an excellent job in creating a sweet, romantic tale, woven with excellent performances, stellar singing, and great design.
The musical, adapted from the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo, takes place in a cosmetics shop (parfumerie) in Budapest in 1937, and follows the lives of the people who work there, and two lonely hearts in particular, Georg and Amalia.
Shop clerk Georg Nowack (Michael Graham Morales) has been corresponding with a “Dear Friend” he met through a lonely hearts advertisement in the newspaper. Unbeknownst to him, his anonymous pen pal is a newly-hired clerk, Amalia Balash (Jennifer McCann), who also is blissfully unaware of the identity of her letter-writing Romeo. Georg confides in his friend and fellow coworker, Ladislav Sipos (Michael Lorenzo), about his new love. Their other coworkers, Ilona Ritter (Martina Haskins) and Steven Kodaly (Tomm Knightlee), have an on-again-off-again romance played out in tussles and tangos. Delivery boy Arpad Laszlo (Joshua Prouser) helps around the store while shop owner Mr. Maraczek (Brad Shepard) tries to manage it all.
One of my favorite performances came from Martina Haskins. As a performer, she is the full package: wonderful voice, exquisite movement, and precision timing. She is excellent at storytelling as demonstrated in her “I Resolve” and “A Trip to the Library.” If she could bottle and sell that one-eyebrow-up look of hers, she’d be a millionaire. She is a charming actor and a joy to watch.
Another outstanding performance comes from Michael Lorenzo. He steals moments almost unintentionally with his facial expressions and physical reactions to situations. I laughed out loud at moments when he ducked serendipitously behind the shop counter or gave a look of horror at the goings-on between feuding couples. I loved his number, “Perspective,” where he explains his attitude toward customer service: swallow your pride and avoid conflict.
Michael Graham Morales brings a warmth and genuineness to Georg that makes him a likeable lead. His musical number, “She Loves Me,” accentuated these features in fine voice that made me smile. I saw Tomm Knightlee’s fantastic performance as the Emcee in Cabaret last year, and didn’t realize he was playing Kodaly until I read the program during intermission: quite the chameleon. He did a great job playing the suave womanizer and in fantastic voice as well.
Jennifer McCann’s singing is spectacular, easily one of the best voices I’ve heard, certainly in a community theater production. Initially, her character clashed with the other performers in that it seemed forced and artificial. I was so glad to see a more natural performance as she entered Act 2, especially with her song, “Vanilla Ice Cream.” I believed Amalia’s every word as her feelings blossomed for Georg. I chalk up her Act 1 stiffness to opening-night jitters.
Hats off to director Meghan Lynn Allen for creating stage pictures filled with nuance, interest, and delight. There was never a moment that I didn’t see every performer on stage engaged in what they were doing or focusing on the central scene: that always makes for a well-rounded, engaging production. Music director Steven Cirillo also did an excellent job: the four-piece orchestra was impeccable, and all of the musical numbers were obviously well-rehearsed and well-executed by the principals and ensemble. Repetitions in the score from Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 were a subtle nod to the story’s Hungarian roots, which was especially well-pointed in the “r(R)omantic atmosphere” of the Café Imperiale.
Broad Brook Opera House’s small stage is a challenge for any set designer. The ingenious set design by Greg Trochill brought enthusiastic applause from the audience as the parfumerie was revealed. Using a series of rotating set pieces, they were able to create all of the locations needed with seemingly little effort. My one and only complaint was the sound: the actors’ voices were often out of balance with the orchestra. As a result, some of the actors’ lines got lost and I strained to hear the performers at times, even though I was in the fifth row.
In all, She Loves Me is not to be missed: an entertaining, well-produced musical filled with romance and humor, coupled with fantastic vocals and performances. Runs Friday and Saturday nights at 8pm through September 26th and Sunday matinees at 2pm through September 27th.