Review: ‘She Loves Me’ at San Francisco Playhouse (****1/2)

by Charles Kruger

The entire company (cast, musicians, crew, and creative team) of "She Loves Me" brings Christmas cheer to Union Square!
The entire company (cast, musicians, crew, and creative team) of “She Loves Me” brings Christmas cheer to Union Square!
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

We all love traditional Christmas classics, whether Tiny Tim or George Bailey, Pyotr Tchaikovsky or Irving Berlin. But, in San Francisco, some of us are very grateful indeed to the SF Playhouse for their lovely tradition of offering the unexpected each Christmas season. Previous treasures have included Tennessee Williams’s charming, but rarely produced, Christmas comedy, “Period of Adjustment” (2011), the bewitching, Bell, Book, and Candle” (2012), John Patrick Shanley’s “Storefront Church” (2013), and “Promises, Promises,” Neil Simon’s musical adaptation of Billy Wilder’s classic film, “The Apartment” (2014).

This year, it’s the Harnick/Bock (“Fiddler On The Roof”) hit musical, “She Loves Me,” featuring the popular Bay area musical comedy team of Jeffrey Brian Adams and Monique Hafen as anonymous romantic pen pals who bicker in real life. Will their love survive their unmasking? If the premise of the story is familiar, that’s no wonder. It is based on a Hungarian play from the 1940s, “Parfumerie,” by Miklós László, which has been remade as the movies “The Shop Around the Corner” (a Jimmy Stewart classic), “In The Good Old Summertime” (a musical Judy Garland classic), and “You’ve Got Mail” (starring Tom  Hanks). So, the premise has legs.

This simple play is a showcase for charm, beginning with the scenic design of Bill English and Jacquelyn Scott, the costumes of Abra Berman, and the properties of Jacquelyn Scott and moving on through the excellent musical accompaniment and the uniformly delicious performances.

We are not surprised to find the usual excellent work from Jeffrey Brian Adams and the elfin Monique Hafen, who are particularly well cast here.  And we are delighted by multiple star turns, as performer after performer gets to deliver one novelty song after another. With nearly two dozen to choose from in this polished score, it is impossible to single out every deserving number. But I have to mention “Try Me” as sung by the super talented, and no doubt future professional, high school junior Nicholas J. Garland, as the ambitious delivery boy, Arpad Laszlo. The brassy-voiced Nanci Zoppi brings grace and poignancy to the role of Ilana Ritter, and, as her undeserving love interest, Steven Kodaly, Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr. is a singing, dancing, snake of a seducer whom you will love to hate. Katrina Lauren McGraw, as a demanding customer, and Brian Herndon as a snobbish waiter give fine performances in smaller roles, as does the rest of this enthusiastic ensemble.

You will love “She Loves Me.” Whyever not?

“She Loves Me” continues at the SF Playhouse through January 14th, 2017. For further information, click here.

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Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here)
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