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Greater Boston Stage Company’s ‘She Loves Me’ kicks up its heels

Journal Correspondent

Cast members of “She Loves Me” at the show’s perfume shop.

DECEMBER 7, 2017 – Leave it to Ilyse Robbins to put a hora and a kazatzke in Greater Boston Stage Company’s revival of the 1963 Broadway musical, “She Loves Me.”

The newly appointed associate artistic director of the company formerly known as The Stoneham Theatre has inserted these dance sequences into a lively Café Imperial scene toward the end of the first act of the Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) show.

“I did very pointedly put [the hora, kazatzke sequence] in,” said Robbins, a member of Temple Shir Tikvah in Winchester who lives in Belmont. “It was my little gift for the Jews in the audience.”

Robbins spoke rapturously about “She Loves Me.” “It feels like it’s so well-crafted,” she said. “It feels like each song and each scene further the story. I like that these characters are characters and not caricatures.”

While “She Loves Me” appeals to many theatergoers as a romantic and feel-good show, it also  has serious subtext as a musical set in 1930s Hungary. It was adapted from the 1937 play ‘’Parfumerie” by Hungarian Jewish writer Miklos Laszlo, and the uncertaint over job security during the era is a major factor in the story. At the same time, Robbins doesn’t minimize the ultimately upbeat story of the disarming book adaptation of the play by Jewish author Joe Masteroff. “There’s something about a show that brings you some joy,” she said.

Fans of this musical know that its Budapest protagonists, Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash, have a disarming love-hate relationship. While often at odds as employees at a popular perfume store, they become ongoing pen pals through lonely hearts letters, not knowing each other’s actual identities for quite some time.

If their developing romance proves much of the show’s real charm —  in plot as well as song and dance — “She Loves Me” has substantive insight in subtext about the differences between people at work and in their personal lives, the limits that govern friendship, as well as today’s front-page topic: romance, ethics, and integrity in the workplace.

The play’s storyline has had many machinations, including three films: “The Shop Around the Corner” in 1940; “In the Good Old Summertime” in 1949; and “You’ve Got Mail,” the 1998 hit starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

A strong cast in Stoneham clearly shares Robbins’ deep affection for this charmer. Sam Simahk has all of Georg’s self-doubts at work and in love as well as his inner mensch. His rendition of the famed title song is properly snappy. Jennifer Ellis, one of the Hub’s premier musical talents, captures Amalia’s bewitching personality as well as her vulnerability, notably in the fine solo “Will He Like Me?” and the amusing winner “Vanilla Ice Cream.” Other standouts include big-voiced Jared Troilo as roguish Steven Kodaly and Aimee Doherty as savvy colleague Ilona Ritter.

Robbins predicted that “There will most likely be a menorah backstage” on Hanukkah performance days for the conductor in the play, Nick Sulfaro (the kazatzke-dancing head waiter surrounded during the hora), Troilo (who identifies with his father’s Jewish heritage), and music director Matthew Stern.

“She Loves Me,” Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main St., Stoneham, through Dec. 23. Call 781-279-2200 or visit greaterbostonstage.org.

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