Arts theater review

Dear Friend,

A musical that is written with love, sealed with a kiss, and performed with a lot of heart

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Georg Nowack (David Favela ’18) embraces Amalia Balash (Elisa Boles ’18) in MIT MTG's 'She Loves Me.'
Irena Martinez

She Loves Me
Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Dheekshita Kumar ’20
Kresge Little Theater
May 3–4, 8 p.m. and May 5, 2 p.m.

How do you fall in love? Do you follow someone around relentlessly, hoping that one day they might turn around to notice you? Or perhaps you enter a relationship out of convenience, the best available lover, so to speak. She Loves Me, put on by our very own Musical Theater Guild, hopes to answer the question the only way it knows how: singing. This spring show is a very lovely testament to the way that we fall in love with another person. Complete with spectacular dance choreography, stellar performances by the cast, and a heart-warming story to boot, She Loves Me is another win for MTG.

It all started with a letter. The year is 1934. The place is a perfumery in Budapest. It’s a beautiful summer’s day as a group of people shuffle into work. Spending their time selling products to their customers are: Ilona Ritter (Carrie Fowle ’18), who is having an affair with Steven Kodaly (Geoff Hegg ’17); Arpad Laszlo (Piper Sigrest ’18), the store’s delivery boy; Ladislav Sipos (Kim Dauber ’18), a well-meaning employee trying her best to support her wife and kids; and Georg Nowak (David Favela ’18), the assistant store manager. In “Sounds While Selling,” we get to peer into their lives while they persuade customers into buying their products. We learn that Georg has been writing romantic letters to a mysterious “Dear Friend” for a while now when he shows them to Ladislav, his longtime friend.

Completely in the dark as to the identity of “Dear Friend,” Georg keeps sending his love letters into the ether with the hopes of one day finding her. I was really impressed with the choice of Georg for this production. Favela possesses a frenetic, endearing energy that fits the role well. After seeing him in Avenue Q for MTG’s fall production, it appears to me that Favela can pull off frantic characters. It adds a quirkiness to his character that is amazing to see inhabit the stage.

The moment of reprieve doesn’t last for long because Amalia Balash (Elisa Boles) makes her way into the store to ask for a job from the store manager, Mr. Maraczek (Paul Gallagher G). After successfully conning a woman into buying a musical cigarette box, she secures her position in the store. Not everyone is fond of this new woman. Her strongest opponent is Georg. From the moment they lock eyes, they become instant enemies. Boles and Favela’s chemistry is one of the highlights of the production as they trade quips.

What the two of them don’t know is that they are each other’s “Dear Friend.” Deep down, they hope that they’ll find their true love one day. Nevertheless, they go about their days writing to their pen pal. Dreaming of another life isn’t exclusive to the main pair, though. Illona’s relationship with Steven is going down the drain. Arpad dreams of one day working at the store. Even Mr. Mareczek misses the affection of his wife, who is having an affair.

Yet these characters continue making the loose ends of their lives work. Seeing the Guild’s chemistry with each other onstage has been one of the more heartwarming aspects. The actors’ ability to keep the pace of the plot steaming ahead between musical numbers is a testament to how they can breathe life into this production. Like the romantic comedies of the 1930s, She Loves Me succeeds in maintaining the momentum of the plot all through the first act

On the other hand, the second act is not very gripping plot-wise. It’s not so much a problem on the cast’s part, as they do a good job belting their hearts in the remaining songs, as it is the faults of the narrative. Nevertheless, the production continues to impress and surprise the audience. Staying true to the spirit of 1930s romantic comedies, She Loves Me is infused with dance pieces that speak to the zaniness of the time. Whether it be the sensual dance routine in a romantic café or the fast pace of “Twelve Days of Christmas,” the dance numbers manage to keep the energy of the show up.

In the end, Georg reveals his identity to Amalia. Rather than turn away from him, Amalia shows him a quick smile before they embrace each other with a kiss. Just like that, the musical ended and Amalia’s smile appeared on my face as well. This is how people fall in love. That is how you show that the universe conspires so that two people with no chance of ever meeting can hold each other in their arms near the glowing light of the Christmas tree.