The Sweet Subtlety of an Enduring Classic

Andy Knight
 | Jan 21, 2020
The Cast of She Loves Me
Marlene Martinez (Ilona Ritter), Brian Vaughn (Georg Nowack), Erin Mackey (Amalia Balash) and Sam Ludwig (Steven Kodaly) from She Loves Me.

In 1930s Europe—in a city reminiscent of Budapest, Hungary—Maraczek’s Parfumerie sells all the finest scents, creams and beauty accoutrements. Business is steady but slow, although Mr. Maraczek, the owner, hopes things will pick up now that the nearby department store, Hammerschmidt’s, has closed. Georg Nowack, the manager, hopes so, too; perhaps then they can hire another salesperson for the floor. The rest of the staff at Maraczek’s includes Ladislov Sipos, middle-aged and married; Arpad Laszlo, the young delivery boy who hopes to do something more; Ilona Ritter, who looks for love in all the wrong places; and Steven Kodaly, a dashing lothario with whom Ilona is having a secret affair.

But Ilona and Kodaly aren’t the only employees at Maraczek’s with a secret romance. Georg has been exchanging letters for weeks with his “Dear Friend,” a woman who responded to his personal ad in the paper. Their connection is undeniable and they have much in common. However, they’ve never met in person, nor do they know each other’s names or professions. Georg worries that when they do meet, Dear Friend will no longer be interested.

Georg’s personal insecurities temporarily recede, however, when his professional life starts to unravel. That unraveling coincides with the arrival of Amalia Balash, the new sales clerk hired by Maraczek. From the moment Amalia enters the shop, she and Georg can’t stand each other. To make matters worse, Maraczek has become particularly ornery as of late and seems to direct all of his anger at Georg. The change in Maraczek is a mystery to Georg, and he’s not quite sure what he’s done to deserve such ire.

What neither Georg nor Amalia know is that they are each other’s Dear Friend and have—unknowingly—been exchanging letters for months.

Finally, in early December, the two pen pals decide to meet. Both Amalia and Georg arrive at work the morning of their date nervous and excited to finally meet their Dear Friend—and still completely unaware that they have, in fact, already met. But as the workday progresses, things take a surprising turn. In the heat of an argument with Maraczek, Georg quits his job and then picks one last fight with Amalia before storming out.

That evening, Amalia waits at a restaurant—with a single rose and a copy of Anna Karenina, so Dear Friend will recognize her. Georg arrives with Sipos, whom he’s asked to pass along his regrets to his mystery date; after the day he’s had, Georg doesn’t feel equipped to meet the woman of his dreams. But then, Georg and Sipos see Amalia and realize just who Georg has been writing to. Suddenly, everything changes for Georg. And it’s only a matter of time before it will for Amalia, too.

Miklos Laszlo
Miklós László in 1937​. Passport used by permission of his Estate.
She Loves Me on Broadway in 1963
Daniel Massey ​and Barbara Cook In ​the 1963 Broadway musical ​She Loves Me.
She Loves Me on Broadway 2016
Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski in the 2016 Broadway revival of She Loves Me. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

She Loves Me, which is based on a 1937 play by Hungarian playwright Miklós László, has a score by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Together, Bock and Harnick collaborated on some of the 20th century’s greatest musicals, including Fiorello!, which won both the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize; Fiddler on the Roof, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical; and The Apple Tree. She Loves Me’s book was written by Joe Masteroff, best known for his work on the musical Cabaret. The original production, which opened on Broadway in 1963, was directed by legendary director-producer Hal Prince.

Although the original production wasn’t a commercial success—it ran for only 301 performances and failed to recoup its investment—it was a favorite among critics. “She Loves Me has probably gotten the best reviews of any show I’ve ever written,” Joe Masteroff said in a 2016 interview. “Reviews constantly would come in from all over the country from distinguished critics [saying], ‘This is the best musical I’ve ever seen.’”

It’s no surprise, then, that the musical has endured. In the same interview, Sheldon Harnick noted that “little by little, [the musical] established itself as a cult show,” with productions around the country. Since then, She Loves Me has had two successful Broadway revivals, in 1993 and in 2016.

There is, after all, something undeniably charming and romantic about She Loves Me. It tells a story of ordinary people and everyday love—but it feels exceptional. The book, both funny and unexpectedly moving, seamlessly glides into songs that simultaneously delight and endear. Take “Dear Friend,” Amalia’s solo that ends the first act. What begins as a somewhat amusing song about finding herself stood up by a blind date subtly transforms into a heartbreaking expression of vulnerability and tenacious hope. It lacks the flash of a typical act one finale, which encapsulates She Loves Me perfectly: unpretentious, yet emotionally full.

“The score is complex and stunning and it adds so much to the plot in how it moves the narrative and characters forward. It’s extraordinarily exciting, musically,” says David Ivers, who makes his SCR directorial debut since being named the company's artistic director. But Ivers—a self-professed romantic—adds that “the more I dug into it, the more I found that there’s so much book work that grounds the musical.”

For SCR’s production, Ivers has assembled a top-notch team of designers to bring the world of She Loves Me to life, a world Ivers calls “incredibly beautiful and highly detailed.” The set is designed by a new face to SCR, Jo Winiarski, while the rest of the design team, Alex Jaeger (costumes), Jaymi Lee Smith (lighting) and Jeff Polunas (sound), are all SCR veterans. The creative team is rounded out by music director Gregg Coffin, who returns to the theatre after music directing One Man, Two Guvnors in 2015 (also directed by Ivers), and choreographer Jaclyn Miller, who makes her SCR debut.

The cast of sixteen is led by Erin Mackey, who appeared in SCR’s 2014 production of The Light in the Piazza, as Amalia; Brian Vaughn, in his SCR debut, as Georg; Marlene Martinez as Ilona; and Sam Ludwig as Kodaly. Read more about the cast here! She Loves Me runs Jan. 25-Feb. 22, 2020, on the Segerstrom Stage.

Learn more and buy tickets to She Loves Me.