|Stacey Murdock (Kodaly) and Cassi Q. Kohl (Ilona)|
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Lakewood Theatre Company’s entry into the holiday theater scene is a wonderful production of She Loves Me – definitely a must-see for lovers of musical comedy. This rarely performed gem is given stellar treatment by director Tobias Anderson and music director Jon Quesenberry, both of whom clearly understand the light and deft touch needed for a small, intimate show. With music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (of Fiddler fame), She Loves Me demands top-notch vocalists, and the Lakewood cast not only meets, but also exceeds, our expectations.
|Paul Angelo (Georg) and Dru Rutledge (Amalia)|
Long before Match.com and Facebook – even before Al Gore invented the Internet – people had a way to connect emotionally before they ever met by sending (gasp…) letters. She Loves Me tells the story of Georg and Amalia, two constantly feuding clerks at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in 1930’s Budapest who are unaware that each is, in fact, the other’s romantic (but anonymous) pen pal. The story revolves in large part around their inevitable (and initially disastrous) face-to-face meeting. (Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve seen You’ve Got Mail!) Another clerk, sleazy womanizer Kodaly, is secretly having an affair with Mrs. Maraczek and spending his free nights bedding another employee, Ilona. In the end, love and honor triumph.
Martin Tebo (“Arpad” the delivery boy) is by far the youngest cast member, and his youthful exuberance – augmented by impressive athleticism – brings a lot of energy to the stage, while his plaintive delivery of “Try Me” relieves the doom and gloom of Mr. Maraczek’s unfortunate “gun accident.” Brandon Weaver’s cameo as the tightly wound Maître d’ combines a controlled and lovely singing voice with a deer-in-the-headlights, almost Oliver Hardy-like panic as the situation spins out of his control. Jeremy Southard develops the role (“Sipos”) nicely with his one song, “Perspective,” but it is his consistent acting that really sells the character. On Saturday, Bryan Luttrell (“Mr. Maraczek”) seemed to be struggling a bit with timing at the beginning of “Days Gone By” but he quickly captured the rhythm, and his charming waltz turn lends a dignified Old-World charm that softens the blow of his angry moments later in the show.
“Ilona,” as portrayed by Cassi Q. Kohl, is in serious danger of stealing the show. Always a key comic role, Kohl’s “Ilona” is a true triple threat. She is an outstanding actress whose stage presence is utterly captivating, her timing is impeccable, and her delivery of “I Resolve” and “A Trip to the Library” showcases one of the best voices we have heard on a
area stage. Her
counterpart, Stacey Murdock (“Mr. Kodaly”), brings more than just sleaze to his
role – he is an accomplished actor whose “Grand Knowing You” may well be the
strongest vocal number in the show. Portland
Dru Rutledge and Paul Angelo are beautifully matched as Amalia and Georg – while the nature of the relationship evolves from hostility to the flames of newly discovered love, the level of passion is consistent throughout. Angelo’s nuanced performance gives Georg a likeability that makes the “happily ever after” conclusion satisfying and believable. She Loves Me has been called the “Ice Cream” musical, and Rutledge’s amazing rendition of “Vanilla Ice Cream” fully validates the appellation. From the opening notes of “No More Candy” to the finale, Rutledge’s beautiful soprano integrates the music into her acting with seamless transitions.
Positioning the orchestra behind a semi-transparent scrim is a nice touch that allows the audience to observe these talented musicians without distracting from the central action. Both orchestra and chorus provide powerful support to the leads, and Laura Hiszczynskyj’s choreography brings wonderfully controlled chaos to the nightclub number. The functional art deco sets allow for seamless scene changes, ensuring a constant flow of action.
We have always loved this quirky, wonderful show – but never more than last Saturday’s performance at Lakewood.
Lakewood Theatre Company’s She Loves Me is running at
for the Arts, 368 S. State Street,
Lake Oswego through Sunday,
December 21st. Show dates and
times and ticket information are available at https://www.lakewood-center.org.