Masteroff, Bock, Harnick’s Perfumery Scents the Air with Love
by Lynne Stevens
In these gray San Francisco days, we need some sparkling singing and dancing to cheer us up. Brilliance and cheer abound in 42nd Street Moon’s delightful musical “She Loves Me,” based on Miklós László’s 1936 play “Parfumerie.”
The orchestra hidden onstage transports us to Budapest during the 30s Depression. At Maraczek’s elite perfumery, clerks are trying to please their demanding customers: “Thank you madame, please call again, do, call again, madame.”
As the perfumery opens, the employees sing, “Good Morning, Good Day,” bursting into song as naturally as breathing. Witty lyrics run like a bubbling stream through the heartwarming musical. Even without the dialogue, the songs tell a captivating love story.
Set Designer Kuo-Hao Lo’s magical set swivels and pivots, like a spinning Murphy Bed—an elaborate jewelry box. The lights dim, a wall turns, and the elegant shop, Amalia’s room, or the magnificent Café Imperiale appear—a Pandora’s Box of delights.
The ensemble skillfully portrays customers at the elegant shop and the splendid café. As they sing polyphonic songs with intertwined melodies, each actor offers a distinct, superb performance.
While the clerks contemplate taking the day off for a picnic, delivery boy Arpad (exuberant Roeen Nooran) takes pride in his job. He admires the older workers and yearns to be a clerk.
With understated charm, Lee Strawn plays Maraczek, the shop owner. Taking Georg under his wing, he sings sentimentally about “Days Gone By,” encouraging Georg to find a girlfriend.
Reserved Georg (versatile Riley McFarland) can barely tolerate the pretty clerk Amalia (bristly Marah Sotelo)—and she feels the same. But Amalia turns out to be an excellent saleswoman. And we know before they do that they have been unknowingly corresponding through the newspaper’s lonely-hearts column. Their anonymous letters open with: “Dear Friend.”
Our lovebirds each have a standout solo. Amalia’s “Vanilla Ice Cream” and her soaring soprano trill tell us this is the turning point: she is falling for the “new” Georg.
All the actors define their roles through their singing voices, sending subtle messages about love and self-doubt. Georg’s shy friend Sipos (Nick Nakashima) sings “Perspective,” seeing the worker as “a speck in the universe.” Anxiously, Sipos channels Depression fear, warning Georg not to lose his job.
Sweet Ilona (sassy Sophia Alawai) and devilish Kodaly (preening Will Giammona) play cat and mouse games. Ilona knows he’s bad news, even as they rumba across the stage together.
The costumes show the elegance of the 30s. Costume Designer Adriana Gutierrez gives each character a distinct flair, despite status. While the customers have fur collars, the clerks wear dignified jackets with Maraczek’s monogram.
Leslie Waggoner’s clever choreography spotlights tall, loose-limbed Daniel Gilmer, a busboy in the café. Gilmer delights with his at first awkward, then smooth tango around the café with the rambunctious clientele.
Headwaiter Ted Zoldan authoritatively maintains a “romantic atmosphere” until he must admit defeat when “every now and then we just get the wrong crowd.”
There is no denying the enduring appeal of this musical. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. They bristle and then . . . matters improve daily. . . She Loves Me!
You’ll love it too!
“She Loves Me” –book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, based on “Parfumerie” by Miklós László, directed by Peet Cocke, at 42nd Street Moon, San Francisco. Info: 42ndStMoon.org – to June 25, 2023.
Cast: Sophia Alawi, Milo Boland, Bekah Lynn Broas, Ben Chau-Chiu, Will Giammona, Daniel Gilmer, Riley McFarland, Nick Nakashima, Roeen Nooran, Deborah Rosengaus, Monica Rose Slater, Marah Sotelo, Lee Strawn, and Ted Zoldan.
The Band: Daniel Thomas, piano; Emily Chiet, violin; Nick Discala, winds; Lynden James, keyboard.