Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick never wrote a better show than She Loves Me. It remains a classic, justifiably regarded as one of the best musicals of the 1960s. Bock’s music brims with non-stop, engaging melodies matched in their charm by Harnick’s clever lyrics. And I have never seen the show better sung and acted than as by the student cast of Point Park U’s Conservatory Theatre. Director Jack Allison has found marvelous ways to elicit performances full of style and personality, perfectly meshed with the sweet simplicity and gentle humor of Joe Masteroff’s script, a great way to make the season jolly and bright.
Meanwhile the Camille Rolla-directed seven member orchestra, even if small, does thorough justice to Bock’s evocation of waltzes, polkas and schottisches as well as several kinds of Hungarian music, including the czardas plus the tango, even a bolero in a brilliant score that evokes a perfect sense of the show’s time and place.
Given the rather simple plot, it remains up to the cast and director to enrich the characters and make consistently engaging what they sing, say and do. Many performances achieve all of that. Kevin O’Leary’s exceptionally skilled take on self-effacing clerk Ladislav Sipos especially stands out. Emily McVicker does wonders as vulnerable, desperate- for- romance Ilona Ritter. As young and eager Arpad Laszlo, Grant Haralson gets it all right. And, in two lead roles, Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash Justin Fortunato and Breanna Pursell consistently sing with fine voices while making the most of their lyrics. Fortunato also conveys sturdy sincerity.
Director Allison has put in superb touches, getting his cast to make the most of their songs. Moreover his handling of the frantic logistics in the “Twelve Days to Christmas” scene adds to the fun permeating the show. Contributions from scenic designer Michael Thomas Essad and choreographer Zeva Barzell provide more delight. Essad’s rotating store-front and store interiors, sometimes tripling with even more versatility, glow with imagination. Even his stage curtain fits the period. And Barzell has created a knock-out staging of a wild dance in the café.
I find this production one of the best Conservatory performances I’ve ever experienced, equal to, perhaps even better than professional ones. Alas, you don’t have much time to enjoy it. She Loves Me closes on December 19th a week from today. It’s at Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland. Tickets and info at 412/ 392-8000 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com