Filichia Features: She Loves Me Gets Some Love

Filichia Features: She Loves Me Gets Some Love

The ads proclaimed “She Loves Me in Concert,” but as we’ve all learned, “in concert” can mean many different things.

Would this presentation at 4th Wall Theatre in Bloomfield, New Jersey offer us some or all of the songs that composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick wrote for their 1963 masterpiece? Would some, all or even none of Joe Masteroff’s perfect book be included?

Aside from the tragedy of losing “Tango Tragique” – which was the authors’ choice made some 20 years ago and not 4th Wall’s – audiences at the Westminster Arts Center got every bit of the Tony-nominated musical in what would be more accurately described as a superbly staged reading.

Few musicals reduce as well as this one. Its intimacy allows even six musicians on ten instruments to nd right. Props? Well, have a budget for a rose, which is used as a bookmark, but the book itself -- Anna Karenina -- your local library will undoubtedly oblige if money is tight.

When it’s a great musical, you don’t need scenery; a few chairs will do. Even when a bed was called for, Molly Dunn, a lovely Amalia, simply stretched her body over a few chairs. Still, to be on the safe side, 4th Wall projected a slide of a bedroom on the back wall where it had earlier shown the exterior and interior of Maraczek’s, one of Hungary’s most stylish parfumeries.

Director Josh Penzell immediately showed great imagination in having Maraczek’s delivery boy Arpad (Will Flamm) enter with a box fill of black binders. The principals came on, took their scripts, and showed attitudes that gave hints to their characters. Amalia and Georg (Michael Campbell) seemed demure and unsure, befitting people who’d get involved in a lonely hearts club-like situation. Ilona (Madeline Orton) and Steven Kodaly (Todd Shumpert) traded lusty looks to reveal that they had something going on. Sipos (Ted Cancila), the workaday clerk, displayed great respect for the boss (it never hurts). Maraczek (Rich Maloy) conveyed the dignity of a merchant who believes his is the ne plus ultra perfume shop.

All right, maybe I read into these entrances because I’ve known the plot of She Loves Me for decades. Haven’t you? No? Then you must make your acquaintance with this exquisite musical.

During the second song – in which Georg, Kodaly and Sipos wait on three customers – genius is already apparent. Instead of a mere hustle-and-bustle list song that rhymes "cream" with "dream" and "lotion" with "notion," Harnick has the audience tune in and out of three simultaneous transactions, so the result is 1) "I would like an” 2) “eyebrow” 3) “under my chin.” What could have been a mere smile-inducing song is now one that genuinely makes us laugh.

Hairspray boasts of having “the nicest kids in town,” but She Loves Me can claim the nicest adults of any Broadway musical. Yes, Kodaly is two-timing Ilona, but as an employee, he’s a good team player. He, Georg, Sipos and Ilona are caring colleagues we'd love to have at our workplaces. Maraczek, who treats Georg as the son he never had, even pulls the clerk into a waltz while reminiscing of what a dancer he used to be in “Days Gone By.”

“I'm a terrible dancer,” Georg admits, so you don’t need a latter-day Fred Astaire when casting your Georg. In fact, one reason that She Loves Me easily adapts to a concert format is that the show calls for a less-than-usual amount of dancing.

But every story must have conflict. It starts when Maraczek shows Georg a music box which he believes will be a best-seller. Georg doesn’t, which leads to a bet – a time-honored musical comedy convention from Guys And Dolls to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, from My Fair Lady to Love Never Dies. Maraczek wagers that the first music box will be sold in minutes, and Amalia, who enters in hopes of getting a job, proves him right by rushing up to a customer and hard-selling her. Even after Amalia tells the shopper the virtues of this “candy box” and finds to her surprise that it plays music, she literally changes her tune to say that the music functions as an alarm to make its owner think twice before chomping into a cherry cordial. Amalia makes the sale, and Georg loses both money and face. Who can blame him for immediately resenting her?

As much as we like Georg, how can we not root for Amalia? We’ve all at one time or another desperately needed a job and would have done anything to get one. Dunn played this scene very well, but we’d expect her to. After all, aren’t actresses in real life always auditioning and improvising?

The day of the date with “Dear Friend” arrives with both the warring Georg and Amalia unaware that that date will be with each other. The script mentions that each has dressed for the occasion, so even in a concert version they really should change into better clothes. After all, Georg does have a line that "It's a new suit," so give him one.

A lovely dress will also enhance Amalia’s singing “Will He Like Me?” – another moment where we can empathize. On any of our blind dates, haven’t we all asked ourselves that question (although the pronoun may have differed)?

More conflict: Maraczek has become increasingly critical of Georg, who quits in a huff -- and on “Date Day,” no less! Despite their differences, Amalia is genuinely sorry that Georg resigned, because she knows Maraczek had been unfairly hard on him. (See? She’s nice.)

Eventually we learn that Maraczek’s sudden change occurred because he suspected that Georg was consorting with his wife. A private detective informs Maraczek that the actual culprit is Kodaly.

Don’t make the detective hardhearted when he delivers the bad news. Although one could argue that a person in his field has become inured to sordid situations, he needn’t be unfeeling in a show that relies on feelings.

Learning of the adultery and his mistake with Georg spurs Maraczek to shoot himself. But She Loves Me is the type of show where a potential suicide gets away with a flesh wound. (That was good for 4th Wall audiences, considering how ingratiating a performer Rich Maloy was.)

And as if Georg weren’t having enough of a bad day, now he’ll go on his date and find that the author of those wonderful letters was Amalia. Once he does, he barrels in pretending that he’s just another restaurant customer. He asks to sit with Amalia, and while she doesn’t want him there, she knows he’s had a hard time of it and lets him. (Again: she’s nice.)

However, when he outstays his semi-welcome, Amalia loses her cool and screams. Now Georg shows that he’s nice by lying to the officious maître d that Amalia had found a fly in her wine. Although Georg doesn’t realize it, he’s defending the woman he loves. But he leaves, and Amalia is left to wait.

The maître d must eventually tell her the restaurant is closing. Make him lose his supercilious pomposity here and have him become concerned for Amalia. That’s how Jonathan Freeman played it in the 1993 Broadway revival, and he got a Tony nomination out of it. Not bad for a role that lasts for only one scene, culminating in Amalia’s mourning that no “Dear Friend” came to meet her in one of musical theater’s most touching Act One curtains.

Act Two immediately allows us to see how nice Georg is, too. He shows up at the hospital to see Maraczek, for he still cares about the man who was once good to him. Justice is served as Maraczek apologizes and reinstates him with a promotion. Are Sipos and Ilona jealous? No – they’re happy for him, which is more than we can say for many co-workers who’ve found themselves in this situation. Yes, we can all learn from She Loves Me’s characters on how to be good and noble.

Amalia’s out sick (read: has a hangover), so Georg visits her. She can’t help divulging the miseries of the previous night, and Georg tries to cheer her by making excuses for “Dear Friend,” who he claimed he’d met outside the restaurant.

Don’t let Georg hesitate too much when fibbing. Isn’t it true that if someone offering you an explanation hesitated quite a bit, you’d immediately doubt that you were hearing the truth? Georg is verbal – he’s a good letter-writer, remember -- so have him concoct his story to Amalia as securely as believably possible.

Georg describes “Dear Friend” as old, fat and bald – which disappoints Amalia – until she becomes disappointed in herself for having such superficial values. She knows that it’s what’s inside that counts which is the hallmark of a (here’s that adjective again) nice person.

She Loves Me is nice in another way, for it’s the most democratic of musicals. Absolutely every principal gets a dynamic solo. We’ve already mentioned Maraczek’s “Days Gone By,” but add to it Ilona’s telling how she’s moved on from Kodaly after making “A Trip to the Library.” Kodaly brags about literally moving on in “Grand Knowing You.” Sipos gives us his “Perspective” on why he’ll let himself put up with anything at work. Arpad has his chance to jockey for a promotion in “Try Me.” Even the maître d sings about “A Romantic Atmosphere” in his restaurant.

How well the Bloomfield performers did by the material! So should we really call 4th Wall’s offering “She Loves Me: The Staged Reading?” No, that wouldn’t be accurate, either, for the actors rarely consulted their scripts. When a musical is this good, its music and words become much easier to memorize.

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Tuesday at and each Friday at His new book, Strippers, Showgirls, and Sharks – a Very Opinionated History of the Broadway Musicals That Did Not Win the Tony Award is now available at