A story of two unlikely romantics, desperate for love but unable to see the possibility of it right in front of them, She Loves Me is a charming waltz through a 1930s Budapest parfumerie, where romance and comedy join hands to bring Amalia Balash and Georg Nowack together at the end of this award-winning musical.
As the curtain is lifted, we are immediately transported into the summery ardour of Budapest, with aesthetically cohesive costume design and elegantly stylistic choreography which accompanies the prelude. The first scene unfurls – literally – as the parfumerie shop folds out across the stage in what is just one of the many innovative set manoeuvres of the first act.
The light-hearted hilarity of the musical is captured from the very beginning, with Leena Meneely’s convincing and self-mocking depiction of the supercilious Mr. Maraczek. The directional creativity and lighting design allow for moments of comedy, especially in the changing of seasons and the well-choreographed scene transitions. Mariam Abdel-Razek in particular is comfortable in the comedic characterisation of Ladislav, as she commands attention with her impressive vocal range. Meneely and Abdel-Razeks’ performances are assurances that gender-blind casting often surpasses existing expectations of a show.
For having to deal with such a demanding score, Laurence T-Stannard and his orchestra deserve commendation. There may have been some moments of disorganisation, particularly in the string section, and the occasional timing mishap between the vocals and instrumentation, but overall the score was brilliantly brought to life, evoking the quirky atmosphere of the parfumerie. Choreography has already been mentioned, but deserves greater consideration for its remarkable ambition, intricacy, and some pretty enjoyable lifts!
The true selling point of She Loves Me, however, is the voices that effortlessly traipse through the many musical numbers within it. As a group, the vocalists handle polyphonic moments and interesting harmonies with a great deal of sophistication. In solo moments, they make a statement of their own also. Well-cast in the role of Steven Kodaly, Ben Cisneros was unforgettable, as his smooth voice and charismatic poise in Ilona achieved one of the most memorable moments in the whole show. Robin Franklin really embraced the role of Georg in the title song, ‘She Loves Me’, with an impactful belt and energetic expression. As for the female lead, Annabelle Haworth, stand-out acting ability and an incredibly strong soprano vocal had the audience cheering fervently after her every song. The chemistry between Franklin and Haworth in ‘Where’s my Shoe’ was also worthy of note, making for an entertaining and crowd-pleasing moment.
Written in the 1960s, lovers of old-school musical theatre will be captivated by She Loves Me, but this show is not at all tied down by its setting or its origins. Jamie Williams’ reimagining of this classic love story is constructed in such a way that it seems current and freshly conceived. Traditional styling is not overdone in the acting, yet the musical still retains a distinct quality of the 1930s through set design and costuming. It is one of the few productions this term that is versatile enough to be suitable for a universal audience.
As the performance draws to a close on the long-anticipated unification of Amalia and Georg, we are drawn into the uplifting moral of this feel-good show, that the greatest of loves are often found in the most unlikely places. I invite those of you who are perhaps new to the world of musical theatre, to head down to the ADC this week, where hopefully you too can have the chance to fall in love with the unexpected.