By Ian Rigg
Audiences will love Marriott’s She Loves Me.
The seminal 1963 musical has never smelled so sweet. In a lovingly crafted set and performance, audiences peer into a Hungarian Parfumerie where tomfoolery transpires, things go topsy-turvy and (spoiler alert) true love ensues. A full plot summary and production history of the Broadway musical, most recently revived in 2016, may be read here.
Director Aaron Thielen sprays a spectacular scent over the intimate space, wafting wonderful waves of exuberant elation and injecting it with occasional notes of darkness and despair but ultimately leaving audiences with delight.
He knows that this show lives and dies by a compelling, classic charm, and it lives, lives, lives. Thielen has wisely chosen to direct his performers in a throwback to old Broadway, so the proceedings play on in a vintage style with a modern inflection. Doubling as the choreographer, he keeps everything to a precise yet organic charm, as actors move about with the sharp clips of the high-end boutique employees they portray.
Jeffrey D. Kmiec has designed an expertly furnished, burnished set with crystalline chandeliers, lovely lights and, of course, myriad perfumes. It is fine as it is functional, effortlessly reconfigured by the cast.
Sally Dolembo’s costumes are simply luscious. The colors, the styles, the textures all perfectly capture the characters and the time and place in which they reside. The lighting design of Jesse Klug is equally lustrous, furthering the cheery atmosphere.
Music director Matt Deitchman presides over a phenomenal pit of virtuosic players for the rapid and rustic score. Together with musical supervisor Patti Garwood, he has ensured his spectacular singers soar through incredibly tight harmonies and cutoffs. Robert E. Gilmartin’s sound design makes sure everyone hears the marvelous music crisply.
And what performers grace the intimate stage! It is a most exquisite ensemble.
Terry Hamilton makes a magnificent Maraczek. He exudes charm and care for his employees and customers, puzzles audiences with moments of cruelty, only to reveal it’s because of moments of heart-rending despondence.
Grant Kilian plays young Arpad with a boyish exuberance and delightful tactlessness, garnering lots of laughs for his unbridled earnesty.
Steven Kodaly is a debonair but despicable lothario, played with aplomb by David Schulmpf. He does his job well, making audiences want to hate him as he reels Ilona in and out, but his fantastic vocals make him a complete joy to watch.
A shoutout is in order to Steven Strafford, who portrays the Headwaiter. It is an utterly riotous role.
Jessica Naimy makes a truly lovely Ilona, bringing a great voice and stylish grace to her performance. With a slightly jaded smile and excellent comedic timing, it’s good to see her journey of burgeoning self-determination.
And James Earl Jones II is a sheer pleasure to witness as Ladislav. In possession of a truly rich voice, he makes the role his own with a droll, deadpan delivery.
But the show is a love story, and it’s portrayed so well by Alex Goodrich and Elizabeth Telford as Goerg and Amalia. The two leads strike an incredible balance and generate joy that pervades the production. Their singing is spectacular, with comedic panache. Goodrich captures the neurotic nature of Georg, and Telford excels as Ms. Balash, the hopeful romantic. The banter between them is impeccable, as spite for one another becomes pining for one another.
And audiences will pine for this production long after it’s gone. This timeless tale is the perfect spring treat.
Marriott Theatre presents “She Loves Me” through June 18 at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. More details and tickets are available here.