REVIEW: "She Loves Me," — San Diego Musical Theatre @ Horton Grand Theatre, San Diego

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

It’s not just ice cream, it’s little shivers of love.

For lush musical-comedy romanticism, it's hard to beat the timeless musical, “She Loves Me.” Factoring in lonely hearts club connections, a measure of calculated adultery, a fair amount of nasty sparring, and even a suicide attempt, this is indubitably a thoroughly adult musical that also happens to be family-friendly — an unusual combination, especially in today’s times.

The melodies of this 1963 show by Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick sounded as sweet and richly evocative as ever in Director Richard Israel’s pleasurable awakening of the Broadway hit, finishing up their month-long run in today’s performance. The show ran from February 7th through March 8th at the Horton Grand Theatre, and was produced by San Diego Musical Theatre.

The 14-piece orchestra, along with the cast led by Allison Spratt Pearce (“Curtains,” “Good Vibrations”), Joshua David Cavanaugh (“Plaid Tidings,” “Treasure Island”) and Sami Nye (“All Shook Up,” “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Musical”), proves to be scrupulous custodians of the luscious score, and none of them more polished than Ms. Pearce.

It would be hard to find an inner tussle between dutifulness and passion with more joyous wit than in this confectionery delight in which Amalia keeps being sidetracked by involuntary thoughts of the newly attractive Georg, in the guise of Mr. Cavanaugh, from the soulful letter she is writing to “Dear Friend.” Ms. Pearce seems to negotiate the emotional passage from hostility to infatuation with brilliant, chrysalis-bursting joy and self-possession. Her Amalia Balash is a worthy successor to the role's originator, Barbara Cook — and that includes her skill at hitting that gorgeous, high B-flat in the song "Vanilla Ice Cream."

"She Loves Me" ran on Broadway for nine months in 1963 and '64, and then didn't appear again for another 30 years where it had a brief revival in 1993. And because of its abundant wit and Old World warmth — it's based on Miklos Laszlo's play "Parfumerie," which also was the basis for the 1940 James Stewart movie "The Shop Around the Corner," the 1949 Judy Garland and Van Johnson musical “In the Good Old Summertime,” and in the 1998 Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan film, “You’ve Got Mail" — the show has endured in discerning musical-comedy-loving hearts, in the memories of everyone who's reveled in the seductive chords of Bock and Harnick's "I Don't Know His Name" or "Will He Like Me?" or "Dear Friend" or that effervescent title song, sung by the show's hero, Georg, all aglow in the realization of his brightening romantic future.

The show is so expertly crafted that the interlocking stories of the seven employees at Maraczek's Parfumerie come together with ease, bubbling with chemistry and personality. And if you don't recognize the imaginative achievement here, the exceptionally graceful integration of plot and song, not to mention the impressively equitable level of attention devoted to each of the characters' stories, well, what can I say? For the rest of us, we'll always have Budapest.

That's where "She Loves Me" takes place — in the 1930s (albeit in a very Americanized style), and mostly in the perfume shop of Mr. Maraczek (Jeffrey Arnold Wolf – Natl Tour: “Titanic;” HBO: “Crashing”), an emporium that opens and inverts like a jewel box in set designer Mike Buckley's dazzling rendering of it on stage.