Helena Fox

She Loves Me is a musical full of fairy-tale motifs – a single rose, a missing shoe, a musical candy box, and when the curtain rises, accompanied by the overture, expertly delivered by the 16-piece band, it is a musical candy box that greets us on the ADC stage. The set appears and operates like a pastel-tinted confection, opening to reveal the delights of Maraczek’s Parfumerie in 1930s Budapest. In the opening number, we meet the employees of Maraczek’s store, from the youthful delivery boy Arpad (Patrick Sheppard) to the intellectual Georg Novack, our protagonist (Robin Franklin). It is clear as each of the characters greets each other in song that this production is going to be something special – the complex music is performed with grace and personality by each member of the central cast. 

The plot of She Loves Me may seem somewhat familiar, the play upon which it is based has seen at least four adaptations, including the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail. Georg is in love with his pen pal, who he knows only as Dear Friend, little suspecting that Dear Friend is actually his 9 to 5 nemesis, Miss Amalia Balash. So far, it may sound like I am describing a musical entirely comprised of clichés, but while the play does rely on romantic tropes, in many respects being the perfect romantic comedy, it is also populated by incredibly nuanced characters and witty dialogue. Despite their mutual obsession with Anna Karenina, Georg is no Vronsky, and Amalia is far from a Russian duchess. Instead, they are intensely relatable and normal – a pair of intellectual romantics working retail jobs and yearning for intimacy. Likewise, the secondary characters are all incredibly strong and well developed, providing the vehicle for delightfully diverting numbers such as ‘A Trip to the Library’, ‘Ilona’ and ‘Try Me’. Even if you have never heard a song from this musical before, it is impossible not to find the music absolutely charming and I guarantee you will leave the theatre humming one of the many catchy motifs.

The direction makes full use of the small but tight ensemble. Instrumental numbers are choreographed less with dance routines than stylised movements that contribute to the rose-tinted atmosphere. Given the size of the ADC stage, it was a shame that some of the ensemble numbers were staged in a very small space, giving a very crowded feel. A notable exception was the final group number, ‘Twelve Days to Christmas’, which optimised the ADC space for comedy, without losing any of the musical subtlety. Occasionally it felt that the principal cast members lagged behind the ensemble in terms of their movement capability, but more than made up for it with their musical and acting talent.

"The stand-out performances were from the romantic leads."

Indeed, it is in the individual performances that this production particularly shines. Each solo number fully demonstrated the ability of the performers. Capucine May and Ben Cisneros excelled as the secondary romantic couple – their individual numbers were expertly performed, even if they did not always have believable chemistry. Alex Hancock’s cameo performance as the waiter of the Café Imperiale was inspired and provided a brilliant counterweight to the ensemble’s energy in the penultimate number of the first act. Indeed, despite the crowded staging, this number was where the ensemble had the greatest opportunity to shine. Mariam Abdel-Razek’s moment in the spotlight (literally) was a comic tour de force, especially considering the challenge of singing a piece written for a male actor. Undoubtedly, however, the stand-out performances were from the romantic leads. Annabelle Haworth as Amalia perfectly trod the line between comedy and endearing charm, and more than kept pace with the brilliance of Robin Franklin’s performance, which excelled in all areas – the complex Jerry Bock score was all ease when conveyed through his rich vocals. The title number, coming in the middle of the second act, was appropriately a highlight of the entire production.


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I have already mentioned the candy-box like set, but a word must be spared for Michelle Spielberg’s sheer cleverness. Although occasionally sparsely dressed, Maraczek’s store could be opened and closed to convey street scenes and indoors, while curtains and moving set pieces were called in to evoke locations as varied quiet candlelit café, hospital ward and the bedroom of an incurable romantic. Inspiration has clearly been drawn from the 2016 Broadway revival to great effect. Lighting brilliantly conveyed the changing of the seasons, as well as suffusing the majority of scenes in a bubblegum tinted glow. Unfortunately, the costume did not work as well to convey the 1930s setting and a large number of cast members in black suits made for harsh visuals against the otherwise pastel colour palette. Dressing presumably male characters (played by female actors) in fitted, cropped trousers also created some confusion, although presumably this decision was made due to budget restraints.

No production could be more entertaining to watch in the run-up to Valentine’s Day than this – She Loves Me is a musical which genuinely makes you believe in love and warms your heart, and it does this by maintaining a careful balance between light and dark. It may be suffused with warm, pink light, but the comedy of this musical does not conceal the emotional depths of its characters, making the romance on stage seem not just charming, but true.

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