By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Georg (Jeremy Vega), left, gets encouragement from Ladislav (Jose "Chach" Snook) to follow his heart
The students are learning a lot as Tucson's own Arts Express theater arts education company stages a lively production of “She Loves Me,” directed by Chris Will. Rightfully dubbed “a good old-fashioned musical,” the show itself has a history with long roots.
It opened on Broadway in 1964, the same year “Hello, Dolly” sucked all the life out of the Tony Awards by winning almost everything. Talk about bad timing.
But a 1993 revival on Broadway brought fresh waves of acclaim to “She Loves Me” and also inspired the 1998 movie adaptation “You've Got Mail.” Digital technology is moving so fast these days, Hollywood should be ready for a smartphone version any time now.
Where the original “She Loves Me” shines is in the extra sweetness of its traditional propriety and manners. At heart this is a story of romance between a pair of “lonely hearts” letter writers. In love with each other's words, they have yet to meet in person.
Since the musical (with its songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick) is based on the 1937 play “Parfumerie” by Hungarian playwright Mikos Laszlo, the setting is Budapest between the world wars when everyone was taking a deep breath.
It was also a time when the city's fashion-obsessed and properly scented ladies took such matters as olfactory appeal quite seriously. Back then, personal ads in newspapers also provided a surreptitious way for people to get to know each other.
Mr. Maraczek (Jesus Limon) is the gruff but good-at-heart owner of an ever-so-proper perfume shop, a place where every exquisite scent must be not only appealing but also functional.
Mr. Maraczek's employees are equally determined to do everything the correct way. Or, as people used to say, “according to Hoyle.”
One of the two amorous hearts in question belongs to Georg (Jeremy Vega), highly regarded for his salesmanship in the ephemeral world of perfumes and ladies' accessories.
The other heart belongs to Amalia (Jodi Darling), the perfume shop's newest and most eager employee.
In to provide the complications that keep this story moving along are Ladislav (Jose “Chach” Snook), Steven (Kit Runge), Ilona (Danae Dorame) and Arpad (Conner Taylor).
There is no shortage of musical numbers, 23 to be exact. Several of them include a large ensemble portraying townspeople crisply performing elaborate routines as shoppers and the like, choreographed by Simone Jolivet Manuel.
All the main players get at least one showcase song as we meet them and then learn about their lives in this lovely-to-look-at shop where intrigue swirls thicker than the perfumes. Will Georg and Amalia ever meet? Will there be dessert served after those wonderful restaurant scenes?
“She Loves Me” has performances remaining Friday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 20, at 2 p.m. in the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. There is an additional performance, in Saddlebrooke at the Desertview Performing Arts Center, 39900 S. Clubhouse Dr., at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Tickets in advance are $24 general admission, $19 military and seniors age 65+, $15 students, $10 children 12 and under. All tickets are $5 more at the door. For details and online reservations, or www.arts-express.org; on twitter, @ArtsExpressAZ; on instagram @Arts_Express_Az; and on Facebook as Arts ExpressAZ.