Arena’s She Loves Me

First in a two-part series of Reviews too Late to do You Any Good, I thought I’d tell you about my experience last week when my darling girlfriend and I caught Arena Stage‘s production of She Loves Me. This is the musical you’ve never heard of but know the plotline to: it’s based on the same Hungarian play that inspired the classic Jimmy Stewart movie “The Shop Around The Corner,” and later the cinematic corporate product-placement strokefest, “You’ve Got Mail.”

Well, two out of three ain’t bad, and She Loves Me was good enough to wash the taste out of my mouth put there by a few minutes inflicted on me by caught on HBO.

She Loves Me was somewhat of a surprise schedule for Arena, put into the lineup because the planned work, A Civil War Christmas by scribe Paula Vogel, “deserves the necessary time and development in order to
bring it to its full potential.” Hard to know what that really means, but the end result was a pleasant one. The numbers in She Loves Me were catchy and often amusing. I can’t think of any side-splitting moments in the musical but I caught myself humming bits of it for days afterwards.

All the actors were enjoyable and not one ever took me out of the moment. The closest exception was Sebastian La Cause as sleazy Steven Kodaly, but only because I spent the first act trying to think of who he reminded me so strongly of. It came to me during intermission: if they’d snuck Kevin Spacey in for act two you might have noticed the physical difference but you couldn’t tell from voice or mannerism. Local boy Kevin Kraft in the male lead did a good job with a difficult part for a modern audience – I find The Shop Around The Corner pretty much unwatchable because of the low-level mysogeny and it would be easy to fall trap to that in this work as well. Kraft handles Georg witout seeming to condescend to Amalia despite the adversarial positions they have to take for much of the musical. He’s got some good pipes on him too – you can check out his recorded work at KevinKraftMusic.com though it’s a bit too folk-ish for me.

Brynn O’Malley is a wonderfully likeable Amalia Balash and if I had to pick one standout performer it would be her. Like Kraft, she’s got her own tightrope walk to manage: She has to portray a woman alternately enthusiastic and devistated by a desire to be loved without making her a whimpering weakling and she does a superb job with it. Kraft gets to display a relatively quick transition when Georg discovers the woman he’s fallen in love with on paper is the real life annoyance in his workplace. O’Malley’s Amalia has to slowly awaken to affection towards Georg without realizing who he is till the last moments in the piece, a more subtle bit of character growth and one she manages well. She does a good job portraying a character alternately strong, brash, brave, frightened, hurt and finally thrilled by love and never once uses the variety to chew scenery.

If you caught the production, chime in: what did you think? Any standout moments, songs, or actors?

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