'She Loves Me,' though scaled back at Chance Theater, still charming

The essential qualities of 'She Loves Me' emerge in staging at Chance Theater in Anaheim

The three essential qualities invoked in "She Loves Me" -- attractive to the eye, pleasing to the ear and functional -- generally emerge at Chance Theater in Anaheim. Though not without some quirks, this spry, full-hearted chamber edition of Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joe Masteroff's 1963 show delivers the romantic comedy goods, at least where it counts.

Namely, in the basic vitality of Bock and Harnick's score and Masteroff's libretto, which remains a marvel of integrated construction, melodic inspiration and dramatic cohesion.

Although director Sarah Figoten Wilson, music director Taylor Stephenson and choreographer Christopher M. Albrecht make the occasional misstep in their effort to view the material anew, overall the essentials register with heightened naturalism, casual wit and honest sentiment.

It turns on squabbling Budapest perfume-store employees Georg Nowack (Stanton Kane Morales) and Amalia Balash (Erika C. Miller), whose mutual antagonism conceals an attraction that neither one admits to, each being smitten with an unmet pen pal known only as "Dear Friend" -- three guesses as to who their inamoratas are.

That's the key element of the source material -- Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo's 1937 "Parfumerie," which inspired the films "The Shop Around the Corner," "In the Good Old Summertime" and "You've Got Mail" -- and which drives "She Loves Me," its will-they, won't-they convolutions playing out amid the whimsical goings-on at Maraczek and Co.

Purists may miss Don Walker's atmospheric orchestrations, but invaluable accompanist Ryan O'Connell brings out their essential colors, from the opening "Good Morning, Good Day" onward. That jaunty establishing song introduces Georg, the show's second couple -- too-willing Ilona (Camryn Zelinger) and total-cad Kodaly (Stephenson), fellow clerk Sipos (Corky Loupe) and delivery boy Arpad (Daniel Jared Hersh).

Owner Mr. Maraczek (Beach Vickers) enters, designer Bruce Goodrich's serviceable storefront set opens up, and the show does the same, not unlike a musical candy box that turns out to contain one bonbon after another.

True, certain ideas in the staging are distracting. Tina Nguyen's violin-playing Romani woman is a pleasant enough notion, certainly in Amalia's Act 1 "Dear Friend" closer, but the intonation and attack fluctuate.

Nor does the preceding "Romantic Atmosphere" benefit from the intrusion of a nightclub chanteuse singing interpolated period standards, for all the endearing energy of a wonderfully avid cast.

Starting with Morales and Miller, whose plangent, human-scaled turns are as unhackneyed as they are delightful, appropriately peaking by Act 2 with "Ice Cream" and the title song.

Zelinger gives Ilona a full-throttle comic pep that wouldn't shame Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Stephenson, less oily-grandiose than snarky-insinuating, gives Kodaly's music his all. Vickers' florid-touching Maraczek, Hersh's eagerly buoyant Arpad and Matt Takahashi's unctuous headwaiter are particularly vivid and the ensemble beautifully voiced.

Again, it's an idiosyncratic take, yet even the indulgent bits come from a sincere affection for the show's content and milieu.

At the reviewed performance this observer found himself succumbing once more to the valentine mood that "She Loves Me" demands, and which this revival largely achieves, in quietly fetching fashion.

"She Loves Me," Chance Theater at the Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 28. $20-$45. (714) 777-3033 or www.ChanceTheater.com. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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