She Loves Me Review - A Writer's Theatre First

Recently, when listening to the end of a program that plays music from Broadway shows on WNUR, Northwestern University’s radio station, I heard the song She Loves Me.  What was this attached to, I wondered.  Last night at Writer’s Theatre, I found out.

Reading the notes in the Writer’s Theatre program, we learned, She Loves Me, the musical, is produced in memory of Guy Adkins, 1968-2010.  Reportedly, She Loves Me was his favorite musical ever.  She Loves Me is, in addition; the perfect musical for this intimate venue,  the Writer’s Theatre first venture into a major American Musical, and a story that resonates with the economic conditions today.

Ladislav Sipos(Kevin Gudahi), Ilona Ritter (Heidi Kettering) and Arpad Laszlo (Bernard Balbot)

Directed by Artistic Director, Michael Halberstam, with musical direction by Ben Johnson, it features an all-star cast.  She Loves Me is based on Hungarian playwright Miklós László's play Parfumerie and has been adapted into various films including: the 1940 version T he Shop Around the Corner starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan; the 1949 musical version In the Good Old Summertime starring Judy Garland and most recently, You've Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

In Joe Masterhoff’s book, (He went on to write Cabaret) we are told about a Parfumerie in Budapest, Hungary in 1932 where two shop employees Georg Nowack (Rod Thomas) and Amalia Balash (Jesse Mueller) are consistently at odds with each other at work.  They are unaware that each is the other's secret pen pal met through lonely-hearts ads.

Amalia Balash (Jesse Mueller) and Georg Nowak (Rod Thomas)

Director, Michael Halberstam said, "One of the great privileges of the Writers' Theatre experience is that of getting to explore great classics in intensely intimate environments. Our venues compel us to bring out the core values from the scripts we chose to bring to life.  She Loves Me is no exception to this rule," and  "We are blessed with an exceptional gathering of artists, a wonderful book, score and lyrics, and delectable storytelling.  Furthermore, I cannot think of a musical more suited to the Writers' Theatre scale and aesthetic.  For this first foray into the landscape of the great American musical, I cannot imagine a more exciting opportunity."

Directed by Ben Johnson, the music by Jerry Bock with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick (the forerunner of Fiddler on the Roof), were a delight. Jessica Redish is the Choreographer and Assistant Director.  Orchestral reductions are by Alan Schmuckler Maria Honigschnabel is the Assistant Musical Director and Piano/Conductor/Contractor.  Musicans include Nina Saito (violin), Margie Halinski (reeds) and Beth Anderson (cello). Four musicians playing eight instruments tucked away created a charming atmosphere.

Ilona Ritter (Heidi Kettering) and Steven Kodaly (James Rank)

The cast includes Bernard Balbot, Andrew Goetten, Kevin Gudahl, Stephanie Herman, Heidi Kettenring, Ross Lehman, Jessie Mueller, James Rank, Jeremy Rill, Nicky Schuenke, Bethany Thomas and Rod Thomas.

The designers are Jack Magaw (scenic), Keith Parham (lighting), Nan Zabriskie (costumes) and Keith Parham (lighting).

Amalia Balash (Jesse Meuller) and Ilona Ritter (Heidi Kettering)

This little known treasure of a musical holds up very well as the Writer’s Theatre ventures into its first major American Musical. It is a strong period piece with great costumes, staging, and an even, convincing cast with good voices, creating characters that were believable.  The music is intricate and complicated so it is hard to leave humming a tune but listening is wonderful.  Most of the characters have solos that give us insight into their personalities.

Ilona Ritter(Heidi Kettering) and Ladislav Sipos (Kevin Gudani)

The placement of the musicians and the use of lighting were very effective.  The continual parade of 1930’s clothing was a delight to my eye.  Ross Lehman as Mr. Maraczek was captivating and Jesse Mueller’s (Amalia Balash) voice was lovely.  Rod Thomas (Georg Nowak) had a Jimmy Stewart quality and was perfect in his role. The acting and singing were strong throughout.  The staging and sets were outstanding.

Georg Nowak (Rod Thomas)and Amalia Balash (Jesse Mueller)

We were fortunate enough to be there on a discussion Wednesday, and I would recommend anyone attending on these nights remain to hear the insightful comments. One word I heard over and over in the discussion described the production as “refreshing”. Long before facebook and on-line dating, there was a time that seems simpler to us now where the lonely-hearts club did this job. What is there not to enjoy in what some say is the perfect musical and certainly it is the perfect musical for this venue.

Writers’ Theatre
664 Vernon Avenue
Glencoe, IL

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Tuesdays & Wednesdays: 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays & Fridays: 8:00 p.m.
Saturdays: 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Sundays: 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
There will be no 6:00 p.m. show on October 17 or November 21
Wednesday Matinees: 2:00 p.m. on October 13 and November 17 only

About Writer’s Theatre from their website:
“In 1992, Artistic Director Michael Halberstam and Artistic Associate Marilyn Campbell founded Writers’ Theatre to create an environment where the written word and the nurturing of artists were the foundation of all productions. Its first venue was discovered through a mutual friend who knew that the owners of a newly opened bookstore in Glencoe were looking to develop play readings and workshops in their store. The limited space available in the bookstore became Writers’ Theatre and gave way to a new aesthetic that has been a company hallmark ever since—-intimacy” and “Now in its18th Season, Writers’ Theatre has enjoyed 17 seasons of operating in the black, playing to an average of 91% audience capacity and is pleased to be heralded as one of Chicago’s most respected cultural treasures”. Since 2000, the subscriber base has grown almost 250%, from 1,500 to more than 5,300 today.

FYI: Writers' Theatre welcomes back 2010/11 Season Restaurant Partner, Winnetka's award-winning Restaurant Michael. Featuring impeccably crafted cuisine of the freshest local and organic ingredients, Restaurant Michael prepares classic, haute cuisine, in a unique and contemporary presentation with French country flair. Writers' Theatre patrons receive 10% off their guest check when they present their ticket stub when ordering. Just 10 minutes from the theater at 64 Green Bay Road, Restaurant Michael is the perfect fit for any dining occasion. Call 847-441-3100 to make your reservation.

For more information about Writers' 2010/11 Season Restaurant Partners and offer restrictions visit

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