‘She Loves Me’ is witty, fun and well done

From left, Olivia Zeis, Lonnie Ford and Jameson Batt play staff of a Budapest perfume shop in “She Loves Me,” a Community Theatre Players production at Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake. 
(Photo provided by Community Theatre Players)

From left, Olivia Zeis, Lonnie Ford and Jameson Batt play staff of a Budapest perfume shop in “She Loves Me,” a Community Theatre Players production at Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake. (Photo provided by Community Theatre Players)

From elaborate to simple, those Community Theatre Players folks really know how to put on a good show. I saw the musical comedy “She Loves Me” this weekend, and I highly recommend it.

When CTP goes big, it goes really big. Last year at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, it did the official Disney version of “The Little Mermaid” with a huge cast, complicated sets, splashy costumes, wild puppetry and other effects, and massive dance numbers. Three years ago, it went similarly full-on with “The Wizard of Oz” at the Harrietstown Town Hall in Saranac Lake.

But CTP also shines on a smaller, more down-to-earth scale, such as the small-cast play “Other Desert Cities” in 2015 and now “She Loves Me” — both staged in the friendly confines of Saranac Lake’s Pendragon Theatre.

“She Loves Me” is a passion project for local actor Jason Brill, who directs and also plays a small role. As he welcomed the audience Sunday night, he explained that his mother loved it and had the record, which he used to listen to with her. He said he’s wanted to stage it here for years, “and sometimes, dreams really do come true.”

“She Loves Me” debuted on Broadway in 1963. Its team of music writer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick also wrote the songs for “Fiddler on the Roof,” which Saranac Lake High School did a fabulous job on this March.

Like the best plays, it has a simple core plot, but one with legs: A man and a woman are amorous, anonymous pen pals, but little do they know that they also work together at the same shop — where they drive each other crazy, oblivious that they are lovebirds by mail. Hilarity, of a witty and sincere sort, ensues all the way to the inevitable happy ending.

It’s based on “Parfumerie,” a Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo that premiered in 1937 and has been adapted by three different American movies. “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940), starring Jimmy Stewart, kept the setting in Hungary but changed the shop’s wares from perfume to leather goods. “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949), starring Judy Garland, moved it to a Chicago music store. “You’ve Got Mail” (1998), starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, moved it to a Manhattan bookstore — or rather, dueling bookstores. “She Loves Me” does better than these at sticking to the original; it takes place in a Hungarian shop that sells perfumes, lotions, soaps, etc.

CTP’s version is intimate, playing well in Pendragon’s up-close environment. The sets and costumes are tasteful but don’t need to be elaborate. It has more the feel of a play than a musical, so when those actors belt out those big songs, holy cow, they’re right there in front of you. Thus, you appreciate how good they really are.

Even though the cast ranges in age from teenagers to gray-hairs, they’re all veterans of local productions. I’m not going to do much individual highlighting here because I think they did such a great job all together, especially in the shop scenes; Nevertheless, I will say that Lucky Cerruti, who played the jittery leading man, knocked me out with his solo take on the title song. And Sunny Rozakis had me from the start and then kept getting better in portraying a vulnerable, defensive, lovable leading lady.

Musicals don’t have to be big and showy. Those are fine, but I think I like them better like this: simple and yet subtly crafted like a popular song, where the the players aren’t obscured in a sea of production and therefore have to be especially good to carry it. I like that the drama comes from the lives of regular, well-rounded, imperfect characters, people I get to know well in those two hours of stage time.

So yeah, it’s worth the $20 ticket price. Go for it. You have three more chances: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

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