Theater Review: ‘She Loves Me’ at Brigham’s Playhouse

There’s a certain charm to Brigham’s Playhouse.

Part of it is the Washington City theater’s atmosphere, from the quaintly picturesque exterior to the intimate stage and audience area. Part of it is the focus on desserts and how the cast of each production helps sell the treats before the show and during intermission. Then there are the productions themselves, many of which seem to illustrate a certain sense of Americana, small town life or yesteryear.

The playhouse’s current offering is the musical “She Loves Me” (book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick). It’s based on the Hungarian playwright Miklós László’s 1937 play “Parfumerie.” However, audiences might know the story best as the 1940 Jimmy Stewart film “The Shop Around the Corner,” the 1949 Judy Garland musical “In the Good Old Summertime” or the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film “You’ve Got Mail.”

It’s basically about two employees at a Budapest parfumerie who do not get along well. Yet they are both members of a “lonely hearts club” and are unknowingly falling in love via anonymous letters to one another.

Actually, it’s somewhat surprising the story has been remade so often. It’s not really a great tale. It has one of those absurd plot twists that shouldn’t result in a full storyline, kind of like “Meet the Parents.”

Part of it is due to changing times. Even William Shakespeare had plenty of absurd plots. “The Comedy of Errors” isn’t exactly his best work. And the plot of “She Loves Me” probably worked much better as “Parfumerie” back in 1937.

Despite that, the songs of “She Loves Me” are mostly pleasant and the cast does a fine job of performing them. Overall, Brigham’s Playhouse puts on a charming performance and directors Jamie Young and Tina Forsyth bring in plenty of fun details.

Tonya Christensen and Doug Knapp have done a masterful job with the set construction. The various pieces are surprisingly ornate, from the inside of the parfumerie to Amalia’s bedroom. Especially intriguing is a scene where one character is telling a story to the side of the stage while the center of the stage — sheathed in a semi-translucent curtain — displays the story she tells.

While some of the supporting cast’s acting is not always the strongest — even overly melodramatic at times — the two leads are strong and charismatic. Dale Hoopes, who shined in Brigham’s Playhouse’s “Murder for Two,” is endearing as shop manager Georg Nowack and Jasmine Anderson brings some operatic vocals to the role of Amalia Balash. Both fill their roles with an affable, easygoing vibe.

Another standout is Ryland Despain as the headwaiter during “A Romantic Atmosphere,” the most entertaining number of the show. Yes, he’s over the top, but hilariously so. Young and Forsyth also directed this scene well, bringing in some creative movements and moments.

Even the supporting cast improves following intermission. The second half is tighter all-around, with less melodrama and even some particularly creative scenes, like the shoe juggling during “Where’s My Shoe?”

The humor is somewhat corny throughout, but that too might be a matter of age. The jokes were likely funnier when the musical premiered on Broadway in 1963. And the audience members who were alive at that time seemed to find plenty of laughs throughout the show.

It may not be for everyone, but the audience Friday night appeared to truly enjoy “She Loves Me.” Even those who don’t enjoy the story will find plenty to like in the direction, set and lead roles.

“She Loves Me” shows at 7 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Saturdays through Nov. 11 at 25 N. 300 West #C1, Washington City. Tickets are $17-23. Visit BrighamsPlayhouse.com or call 435-251-8000.

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