Count the ways Whidbey Playhouse’s new show makes your heart smile and you may just leave humming the title tune, “She Loves Me.”
The musical debuts Friday, April 5 and runs through April 28.
On Broadway, it opened in 1963 but another romantic musical — “Hello, Dolly!” winner of 10 Tony Awards — quickly overshadowed it.
This is the first time Oak Harbor’s community theater is producing “She Loves Me,” which has had many reincarnations as a play and film. It’s based on a 1930s Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo called “Parfumerie.”
The plot line — shop girl meets shop boy, shop girl detests shop boy, shop girl falls for shop boy — is retread in many movies, “You’ve Got Mail,” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, “The Good Old Summertime” with Judy Garland and Van Johnson and the 1940 MGM classic film, “The Shop Around The Corner,” starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.
Karl Borja, appearing in his fourth Playhouse production, once again brilliantly combines humor, hijinks and humility. His facial expressions are as priceless as the perfume he proffers.
As Georg Nowack, Borja plays a longtime store manager bedeviled by a new shop girl and be-smitten by an unknown woman he’s corresponding with through a lonely-hearts ad. Of course, they are one and the same, but the fun is watching him puzzle it out.
Katherine Lof is Amalia Balash, who immediately shows her smarts and savvy when she auditions for a sales job by bamboozling a customer into buying a “music box for chocolates.”
This is Lof’s first lead role at the Playhouse but it’s evident she’s perfected her acting and singing chops elsewhere. Two years ago, she sang at Carnegie Hall with the 2017 National Chorus and she’s pursued voice and theater performance at Colorado University at Boulder.
Last week, the audience collectively held their breath as Lof headed for several high notes during a press and family performance.
“My vocal range is D3 to C7, which is just under 4 octaves,” Lof said in an interview. “I’m very proud of it. It took years to get my voice to stretch that much. Amalia is my first high soprano theatre role.”
Most of the musical score in “She Loves Me” are witty repartees written by lyricist Sheldon Harnick and composed by Jerry Bock, the musical team of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Director Gaye Litka said she’s been a fan of “She Loves Me” for decades and often uses one of its songs, “Vanilla Ice Cream” when auditioning.
The journey to the stage started when Litka asked Eileen Soskin, whom she met during a South Whidbey stage production, to be musical director.
“I’m so thrilled to bring this charming musical story to Whidbey Playhouse audiences,” Litka said.
Sue Riney is producer and a six-piece orchestra sequestered above the audience is led by Oak Harbor High School music teacher Darren McCoy.
“It’s musically very challenging,” Riney said. “It takes a very talented singer to hit those high soprano notes.”
The core cast of seven actors take turns at performing the show’s nearly two dozen songs with an ensemble performing just two numbers.
The play is set in Budapest in 1934, but it could just as easily be updated to New York City’s diamond district with online dating instead of old-fashioned letters of woo. Wealthy women spend their days shopping for both finery and flattery from the attentive sales staff at Maraczek’s Parfumerie.
Kevin Wm. Meyer, who plays many roles at the Playhouse — director, board member, set painter — elegantly portrays Mr. Maraczek. His character starts out a businessman in refined suits and ends as a heartsick, hospitalized husband resigned to the fates of love.
Actors in other leading roles include Emily Hoyt’s fantastic portrayal of character Ilona Ritter, Douglas Langrock once again hilariously assumes the role of cad, this time by the name of Steven Kodaly, high school senior Carl Davis enthusiastically plays a delivery boy with high ambitions named Arpad Laszlo, and Andrew Huggins securely depicts Ladislav Sipos, a steady family man and colleague to be counted on.
Huggins knows he leads a boring life compared to the escapades of the other sales clerks which he addresses with the lyrics, “I’m an idiot but at least I’m an idiot with a job.”
Happiness, sadness, blandness, all kinds of emotions explode in “She Loves Me,” delivered big via doses of bickering.
“The characters are very happy or very sad, and that’s what the audience will feel,” said director Litka. “The fun of it all is the squabbling.”
— Whidbey Playhouse presents the musical, “She Loves Me,” April 5-28, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee. Tickets $20 adults; $18 military and students. Available at Whidbey Playhouse, 730 SE Midway Blvd., Oak Harbor or online: www.whidbeyplayhouse.com