The IU Opera Theatre’s single summer offering in the Musical Arts Center is Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s “She Loves Me” in a nicely staged and sung production that the audience applauded warmly on Saturday night.
Frankly, when the IU Opera Theatre announced the show, I was puzzled. “She Loves Me” enjoyed only modest success when it opened on Broadway in 1963 and in its revival thirty years later in 1993. Not only that, the Opera Theatre had done it just four years ago in 2004. That summer the Musical Arts Center was closed and “She Loves Me” played to warm if not enthusiastic reviews and less than capacity crowds in the much smaller Ruth N. Halls Theatre. And this occurred despite, the recent release of the successful movie, “You’ve Got Mail” which was based on the same story.
However, there are many, many factors that go into the choices that the Music School has to make and I am only aware of a few of them. The show apparently has its champions in the school. In particular, the stage director Vincent Liotta has been quoted as saying that some in the business think it’s the greatest musical ever. The show does require only a small cast with an even smaller chorus. There’s very little dancing. In addition, though IU’s 2004 production of “She Loves Me” did run in a smaller theatre, Robert O’Hearn’s still available set was actually designed for the MAC.
Saturday night’s performance, conducted by Dale Rieling, began with some audio problems. The full sound of the orchestra just didn’t match the thin sound that we were getting from some of the mic’d singers. However, the balances and the quality improved and there were only occasional technical lapses. The problems did return when the chorus of carolers came for the build up to the finale of the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” but that may have been more a problem of staging and pacing than a technical difficulty.
The story of love between a couple of young people who woo in letters but fight in person progressed nicely. It almost comes off as an operetta, like some of those thirties movie musicals with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddie. . Even when it opened in 1963, “She Loves Me” was an old fashioned musical; sort of retro before retro. This favors the vocal skills of the School of Music Singers. Sara Radke sang the role of the young lover Amalia Balash beautifully with power and grace. Kenneth Pereira was George, her love and sparring partner. His performance of the title song was crackling with timing and energy. William Kloppenburg was sympathetic as Pereira’s older friend and confidant at the shop. Oliver Henderson, with a voice much larger than his small frame, was the office lady’s man. His role actually calls for a dancer, and that’s not part of Henderson’s skills, but he sang very well. Eileen Jennings was the feisty cashier and his occasionally ill used lady. Adonis Abuyen presided as the store’s owner. Joseph Mace was very funny as the frustrated head waiter of the Café Imperiale where the lovers almost meet. Maristella Patuzzi a knockout as the Café’s strolling Gypsy Violinist
All in all, I’m happy to have had a second chance with “She Loves Me.” Although the 2004 production with the same director and conductor had some standout actors, this summer’s version of the show is substantially stronger. I think that word of mouth may even lead to a scarcity of tickets for the final weekend. And heck, how can you not like a show that takes you in from a hot Indiana summer night and sends you out from a scene of a young couple kissing on Christmas Eve as snow falls.
“She Loves Me,” has its final performances this Friday and Saturday in the Musical Arts Center. You can find an interview with Sara Radke and Kenneth Pereira on our Arts Interviews podcast page .