She Loves Me

for The Brooklyn Paper
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From the late-19th century "Cyrano de Bergerac" to the recent film "You’ve Got Mail," falling in love by correspondence is a familiar and enduring theme in drama. This theme takes a tuneful twist in the Gallery Players’ latest presentation, "She Loves Me," a musical about two employees who fight on the job in a cosmetics shop but fall in love through letters written to "Dear Friend."

"She Loves Me," based on a play by Miklos Laszlo, opened on Broadway in April 1963. (Laszlo wrote the screenplay for "Shop Around the Corner," the 1940 film starring Jimmy Stewart, and shares a writing credit with Nora Ephron for the 1998 Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks remake "You’ve Got Mail," based on the same narrative device but using e-mail instead of letters.)

The 1963 musical version of Laszlo’s much-adapted tale has the same musical team that created "Fiorello" (1959) and "Fiddler on the Roof" (1964): the music was by Jerry Bock and the lyrics by Sheldon Harrick. But with 360 performances, "She Loves Me" didn’t even come close to the success of "Fiddler" which racked up a grand total of 3,242 shows before closing, or even "Fiorello" which ran for 795 performances.

And one can easily see why.

"She Loves Me" has a clever plot and likable characters. But it has no extravagant production numbers, very little dancing, and calls for costumes that are nothing to write home about. All of which can be lethal on Broadway.

"She Loves Me" might have fared better had there been a few songs to really get your heart beating or your toes tapping. But aside from perhaps the title song, there’s nothing here you’ll be humming on the way home.

Still, the Gallery Players’ production has much to its credit. And if this play is not the very best of Broadway, certainly the Gallery Players, with the help of director M.R. Goodley, do yeoman’s work at getting the most out of a less than extraordinary work.

Mary Elizabeth Sweeney is spunky and sweet as Amalia Balash, the female "Dear Friend." She’s got a beautiful soprano voice that works well in duets or by itself, and she really shows off in numbers like "No More Candy," "Where’s My Shoe?" and particularly in "Vanilla Ice Cream."

Marcus Allen Cooper as Georg Nowack is convincing both as the arrogant co-worker and the besotted swain. And he gives a rousing rendition of "She Loves Me," the play’s most memorable song.

Julie Cardia, with her deep, rich voice capable of really belting out a tune, and Michael Morisi ("The Gondoliers"), as her faithless boyfriend, provide lots of humor and a good example of what love should not be.

Ken Dray, who is a veteran of many Gallery Players and Heights Players shows, and most recently appeared as the Rabbi in "The Tenth Man" at the Impact Theatre, is excellent in the very straight but pivotal role of Mr. Maraczek, the owner of the shop.

But for this writer, the two actors who steal the show in their one scene in the restaurant where Georg and Amalia are supposed to meet for the first time are Tino DeAlmeida as the bungling busboy and Josh Carr as the disapproving, pretentious waiter.

As Amalia nervously awaits the arrival of the man she thinks she loves but has never seen, the one works valiantly to create a romantic atmosphere while the other does his best to destroy both atmosphere and restaurant.

Marisa Lowenstein deserves kudos for her superb stage design. Her recreation of a European cosmetics boutique has a simple sophistication and elegance that works perfectly on stage and moves away rapidly and smoothly for quick scene changes.|

Goodley, who has directed, appeared in, produced, stage-managed and worked in a multitude of ways in over 100 shows with the Gallery Players, is clearly in her element and in total control of all the elements. She’s assembled a top-notch group of actors and kept the enthusiasm high, even in less than inspiring numbers.

There are certain musicals that are box office hits and are almost impossible to produce so badly that they will not succeed. But a truly fine director is one who can make a musical, that is not a natural, work. "She Loves Me" is that kind of musical and Goodley is that kind of director.

"She Loves Me" plays through May 20 at The Gallery Players theater (199 14th St.). Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $15, children under 12 and seniors $10. For reservations, call (718) 595-0547.

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