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Mistaken identity, romance the keys to Lake City Playhouse’s ‘She Loves Me’

Amber Fiedler and Joseph Hall star as Ilona Ritter and Steven Kodaly in “She Loves Me.” (Courtesy photo / Courtesy photo)
Amber Fiedler and Joseph Hall star as Ilona Ritter and Steven Kodaly in “She Loves Me.” (Courtesy photo / Courtesy photo)

It’s a tried and true storyline that works from stage to screen and back again, and one that romantic comedies love to love.

A man and woman, usually working in close proximity with one another, are constantly bickering, seemingly unable to find any common ground.

But unbeknownst to both parties, the two have actually been corresponding with one another after responding to lonely-hearts ads or exchanging emails.

The idea was first presented in Hungarian playwright Miklós László’s 1937 play “Parfumerie,” which was the basis for the 1940 James Stewart-Margaret Sullavan film “The Shop Around the Corner.”

Judy Garland and Van Johnson portrayed the couple in the 1949 musical film “In the Good Old Summertime,” and 1998’s “You’ve Got Mail” found Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the starring roles.

In 1963, the story returned to the stage in the form of the musical “She Loves Me,” featuring music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and a book by Joe Masteroff.

In “She Loves Me,” the couple-who-doesn’t-know-they’re-a-couple is Georg Nowack (Dan Bell) and Amalia Balash (Amy D’Orazi), who meet after Balash gets a job in the Budapest parfumerie in which Nowack works.

As things at the shop grow more contentious between the two, and as shop owner Zoltan Maraczek (Vermont Trotter) and employees Ilona Ritter (Amber Fiedler) and Steven Kodaly (Joseph Hall) having troubles of their own, Nowack and Balash find comfort in writing to and receiving letters from their “dear friend.”

Eventually, both Nowack and Balash arrange to meet their “dear friend” in person.

Lake City Playhouse’s production of “She Loves Me” opens Friday and runs through Jan. 27.

Lorna Hamilton signed on to direct because she was familiar with the title track and is a fan of Bock and Harnick, who wrote “Fiddler on the Roof,” one of her favorite musicals.

“I wanted to see what the rest of the music and story was about and it’s really quite delightful,” she said. “It’s a fun, fun story.”

Throughout the rehearsal process, Hamilton has enjoyed learning more about the score, praising music director Jesse Hampsch’s work to pull out the nuances in each piece.

“Not very often do you need a coloratura soprano and we were very lucky because Amy has a beautiful voice…,” she said. “The women in the audience are going to be melting when they hear (Hall) sing.”

Then there’s the choreography from Jennifer Newton, who Hamilton said really understands how to incorporate physical comedy into the actors’ movements.

“She embraces the physical comedy of the intent of the playwright so well,” she said. “It’s a visual and audible treat all combined.”

Plus, the parfumerie is a star in itself, Hamilton said, a set that “rotates around the actors rather than the actors moving around the set.”

Although “She Loves Me” is, for the most part, an upbeat musical, Hamilton found herself looking into the not so cheery history of 1930s Hungary.

While many in Hungary were struggling to procure the necessities, the members of the elite spent money on frivolities.

“There’s a little paradox going on here, which is our subtext but it’s hidden because the music is fun, the situation is fun, the parfumerie is gorgeous, the women are beautiful,” Hamilton said. “That’s how I did my research. I like to go back into that but hopefully the audience won’t get that depressing side. They’ll just feel the thrill of being in this beautiful, quaint, little Hungarian shop.”

Hamilton believes it’s this beauty and charm, plus the promise of a happy ending after comedic moments of mistaken identity, that has kept audiences interested in “She Loves Me” and its related works for so many years and through so many iterations.

“I think that the reason this story touches all of us is because we really need romance in our life,” she said. “We need something that brings us joy, and the easiest thing, I think, is to grasp at love, to find love. To add a little mystery and a little bit of humor to that situation is ideal for a story.”

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