In theater, as in many other categories, the test of time eliminates lesser vehicles and rewards others not only by the survival of the original but also by its success in other concepts.
Such a vehicle opened Friday evening on the South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Mainstage. The 1963 Broadway hit “She Loves Me” traces its plot back about a century to “Parfumerie,’ a play by Hungarian writer Miklos Laslo.
From there it skipped to Hollywood and the 1940 comedy, “The Little Shop Around the Corner,” with characters, setting (Budapest, Hungary) and plotline in tact. The 1949 cinema incarnation was not so true to its roots, with “In the Good Old Summertime” featuring the addition of lots of music plus singing, dancing and a good old American setting. (Note: Both are shown frequently on Turner Classic Movies.)
The final film, very loosely based on the original, was “You’ve Got Mail,” again without music. Its modern time frame found email replacing the handwritten notes that originally connect the unknowing lovers.
All that brings us to this most-produced version, which retains the original locale and setting and music. Although the story’s timeline covers a year, the final segments focus on the holiday season, making it an appropriate offering in the pre-Christmas slot. This is not surprising as it takes place almost entirely in a small haberdashery which, eventually, is gearing up for Christmas sales.
The lovely score — music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick — contains beautiful ballads, lighthearted comedy songs and clever chorus numbers. All, with the possible exception of the title tune, are probably familiar only to the most avid musical comedy buffs.
Although most of the music is assigned to the eight major characters, and serves primarily to move the plot along, the chorus is supplied solidly by the various customers of Maraczek’s shop. From “Sounds by Selling” to the increasingly frantic “Twelve Days to Christmas,” the seven members of the ensemble blend fully and well whether they are strollers, shoppers, café patrons or carolers.
Director Jewel Abram-Copenhaver is fortunate in having a good percentage of leading players with sure and strong voices. Especially effective are Natalie MacRae as Amalia Balash, newest clerk; Sean Leyes as Georg Nowack, longtime employee; Will Heckaman as Steven Kodaly, womanizing salesman; and Dominic Go as Arpad Laszlo, ambitious stock boy.
MacRea and Leyes are appealingly awkward as the antagonistic co-workers who unknowingly are romantic pen pals. Her clear soprano easily handles the wide range required by “Vanilla Ice Cream” and “Will He Like Me?” and Leyes literally bounces up and down the aisle stairs while expressing his infectious joy on discovering “She Loves Me.”
Heckaman has a great exit song in “Grand Knowing You” and Go lets out all the stops convincing his boss to “Try Me.” Veteran Steve Chung as Hugo Maraczek delivers a touching portrayal of a betrayed husband living in “Days Gone By.” Completing the list of his longtime employees are Roy Bronkema as Ladislav Sipos, Georg’s sympathetic friend, and Sara Beudert as Ilona Ritter, single lady looking for love.
Music director Rebecca Wilson and the four member ensemble do a solid job and scenic designer David Chudzynski uses the “less is more” theory to good advantage, going from outside to in and back with the turn of rolling platforms.
There were a few technical glitches Saturday evening and the costumes were probably period-correct, I am guessing the 1930s, but there was no specific time designated. The choreography chores were assigned to three people, proving that “sharing the wealth” is not always the best choice.
“SHE LOVES ME” plays Wednesday through Sunday through Dec. 16 in the theater at 403 N. Main Street, South Bend. For information and reservations call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.