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On Theater: We still love ‘She Loves Me’

“She Loves Me” at South Coast Repertory
A waiter (Danny Scheie) tries but fails to provide “A Romantic Atmosphere” for Amalia Balash (Erin Mackey) and Georg Nowack (Brian Vaughn) in South Coast Repertory’s "​She Loves Me,” which plays in Costa Mesa through Feb. 22.
(Jordan Kubat / South Coast Repertory)

South Coast Repertory and the musical theater genre have been little more than nodding acquaintances over the company’s first 55 years, but all that may change under the stewardship of SCR’s new artistic director.

David Ivers, for his first directorial project under the SCR banner, has chosen “She Loves Me,” that lyrical romantic comedy which movie fans may recognize as the plot for “You’ve Got Mail,” “In the Good Old Summertime” or (if they’re old enough) “The Shop Around the Corner.”

The premise — two retail shop workers who can’t stand each other but are carrying on a tender love affair by anonymous mail — dates all the way back to Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” but it still works. Adding musical numbers, as Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick did in 1963, only sweetens the pot (and the plot).

South Coast Repertory “She Loves Me”
Marlene Martinez, Sam Ludwig, Ricky Abilez, Brian Vaughn and Matthew Henerson in South Coast Repertory’s “She Loves Me,” which plays in Costa Mesa through Feb. 22.
(Jordan Kubat / South Coast Repertory)
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SCR’s production is rich in both comedic charm and, particularly, vocal prowess. Where else could a solo about vanilla ice cream bring down the house?

That number is warbled brilliantly by the delightful Erin Mackey, whose lush, operatic voice adds a new level of excellence to an already highly enjoyable experience. Mackey delivers a heart-tugging account of a hopeless romantic who can’t see love under her very nose.

Opposite her in this 1930s-era European perfume shop is the equally proficient Brian Vaughn, who wrestles convincingly with his own conflicted feelings. Vaughn adds welcome depth to this character and draws the enviable assignment of selling the title song to an audience already sated with “Ice Cream.”

South Coast Repertory’s “She Loves Me”
Brian Vaughn performs the title song “She Loves Me.”
(Jordan Kubat / South Coast Repertory)

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Gregory North runs the perfumery like a benevolent despot and Marlene Martinez spices up the shop with her seductive charm. Sam Ludwig is a reptilian clerk and Ricky Abilez swipes his scenes as an upwardly mobile delivery boy.

Ensemble efforts are applaudable, though the overlong “A Romantic Atmosphere” number does become a bit wearying, eliciting not-so-fond memories of “Hello Dolly.” Choreography, by Jaclyn Miller, is brisk and efficient.

The rotating “open and shut” perfume shop highlights an attractive setting by Jo Winiorski. Music director Gregg Coffin’s orchestra delivers a resounding emphasis.

“She Loves Me” may have been around the block a few times in a number of other disguises, but it’s a bountiful package of delightful old-time entertainment at South Coast Repertory.

* * *

Callboard

Golden West College’s Theater Arts department will hold auditions for “Monty Python’s Spamalot” Feb. 11, at the former KOCE Studios at the college, 15751 Gothard Street at Center Avenue, Huntington Beach. Performers of all ethnicities and racial backgrounds are encouraged to audition. All roles are open, and auditions are open to everyone. Performers do not have to be enrolled Golden West College students to audition.

IF YOU GO

What: “She Loves Me”

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Where: South Coast Repertory Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Tuesdays through Sundays at varying curtain times until Feb. 22

Cost: $21 to $86

Information: (714) 708-5555; scr.org

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