As they wrap up their 20th anniversary year, Austin Playhouse is ending on a high note.
The romantic musical comedy, “She Loves Me” (through December 21), tells the story of two clerks who dislike one another yet, unbeknownst to each other, are anonymously exchanging love letters with each other.
This tale unfolds in a charming uppity Hungarian perfumery in the 1930s. Mr. Marackek’s store is stocked with elegant merchandise and beautifully decorated for the holidays. The clerks, males clothed in sophisticated suits and ladies in long, lace dresses, hats and gloves, provide polite and joyful service to their clientele, breaking out in a song of goodbye and thank you as their clients exit. The store’s image is of upmost importance as it transports us to a time of sophistication and courtesy from a bygone era.
The search for true love is at the heart of this story. Georg (Joey Banks) brilliantly plays one of the store’s clerks, who is smitten by a woman he knows only as Dear Friend through the Lonely Hearts newspaper column. Things heat up when Amelia (Sarah Zeringue), the recipient of the anonymous letters, enters the store seeking employment. The two take an immediate dislike to one another. An ongoing banter, composed of cutting and witty remarks, begins. Neither realizes that beneath their dispute is a real chemistry and true love waiting to reveal itself.
The story of Georg and Amelia steals the show, but along the way other equally charming characters are showcased, as each brilliantly tells their life story and treats the audience to moving solos which draw you deeper into their plight. Mr. Maraczek’s (Rick Roemer) heart is broken when he learns of his wife’s affair.
The young and sexy IIona (Maria Fahlgren) and Kodaly (Stephen Mercantel), a womanizer who knows how to charm IIona, provide an endless tango of flirtation. The simple Sipos (Tim Blackwood), the only character that appears to be happily married, is worried about losing his job. Last but not least is the young Arpad (Bryce Ray) who is coming of age and pleased to be promoted from delivery boy to full-time clerk, which happens just in time for the hustle and bustle of Christmas and coincidently aligns with the story’s climax as “Dear Friend” is revealed.
Led by director Scott Shipman, the audience is treated to scenes of visual mastery. There is the meeting of “dear friends” at a trendy restaurant where romantic couples gleefully break into song and a lively choreographed dance. Then there’s the magical “12 Days of Christmas” with voices that keep the audience on the edge of their chairs.
This musical captivates the audience with its witty humor, brilliant cast, and powerful voices that soar. Judy Thompson-Price’s impeccably choreographed scenes are one of the highlights of the play.
Cover: Joey Banks as Georg. Photo courtesy Errich Petersen Photography
Sarah Ribeiro has worked as a journalist, reporter, television news producer, public relations director, founded two successful businesses, and is the current Director of Development for Special Olympics Texas. She grew up in Hawaii, has sailed to Japan, run marathons, showed Arabian Horses, and has lived in six cities European cities with her Brazilian husband while he played professional basketball.