by Jean Dunn
BETHLEHEM — There's lots to love about "She Loves Me," Clay & Wattles Theater Company's delightful production of the Bock and Harnick musical, playing through August 12 at The Gary The Olivia Theater on the grounds of the Abbey of Regina Laudis on Flanders Road.
Lesser known than Bock and Harnick's later collaboration, "Fiddler on the Roof," the play received five Tony nominations when it debuted on Broadway in 1963, but was overshadowed by "Hello Dolly" and "Funny Girl," which opened the same year.
On opening night, director Sally Camm told audience members that despite a low profile, the show is beloved by actors who recognized its beauty and have kept it alive through revivals and regional productions.
Bock and Harnick were masters of music-as-dialogue, and in the European operetta style, music advances the romantic storyline of "She Loves Me," a story set in the mid-1930s in an upscale perfumerie in an unnamed Eastern European city.
Seeking strong singers, Ms. Camm gathered a cast of professionals with New York and regional theater credits, all of whom are up to the task of interpreting the intricate score.
Dr. Fernando Jimenez directs an equally talented pit orchestra, charged with delivering, among other things, a lilting melody that springs forth with perfect timing when an actor repeatedly opens and closes a music box.
Peter Newes and Monica Charline Brown star as Georg Nowack, the assistant manager who never seems to have a good day at work, and Amalia Barash, the ambitious young clerk who is hired over Georg's objections.
Veteran performer Steve Sorriero appears as Mr. Maraczek, the demanding perfume shop owner. Other employees are Chris McCoy as the slippery Steven Kodaly; Kristen VanDerlyn as Kodaly's conquest, Ilona Ritter; Jonah Kramer as Arpad, the young delivery boy with high aspirations, and Russel Sawacki as Sipos, the family man who does what he deems necessary to keep his job.
With a background in opera, Monica Charline Brown is perfect for the role of Amalia. Amalia and Georg are particularly endearing in the second act duet of "Where's My Shoe?"
Georg's strongest solo is the title song, one of the show's few familiar tunes, and Kodaly is at his sleazy best in his exit number, "Grand Knowing You."
Steve Sorriero has an early solo as Maraczek but draws his biggest applause in a secondary role as the unnamed maitre d' at the Cafe Imperiale with a comically dramatic interpretation of "Romantic Atmosphere."
The music is grand, Matt Wood's scenery is gorgeous, and new seating at the recently renovated theater makes it unnecessary to BYO cushion. It all makes for a fun late-summer evening (or afternoon) in Bethlehem.
Tickets for "She Loves Me" are $30 general admission, $25 for seniors and $10 for children at thegarytheolivia.com or 203-273-5669.