There are times when old-fashioned charm is just what the doctor (or the entertainment director) ordered. She Loves Me is a musical by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, based on the classic Ernst Lubitsch film The Shop Around The Corner (which also inspired the 1998 update You’ve Got Mail). What a nice surprise to see Santa Monica High School students performing this 1930s period story, reveling in a world where people mail and receive letters at postal boxes instead of online, where upward mobility means that a delivery boy can become a store clerk, where a container of vanilla ice cream is a treasured gift, and where dialogue gives way to song about every five minutes.
Director James Altuner told the Mirror that he put She Loves Me together in about eight weeks – which is as long as he’s been drama teacher at Samohi.
“The show was already on the schedule for the 2008-2009 season,” says Altuner. “I came in and we thought that as long as it was already on the schedule, we should do it. The students were very interested in it.”
Students serve as actors, stagehands, and lighting and sound technicians, while parents and volunteers help out by operating the refreshment concession and doing publicity. Students also comprise the “pit orchestra” for the show, which actually plays in a balcony above the stage set in the Humanities Center Theatre.
The stage set is cleverly designed to function as both an exterior and interior setting, with the actors and stagehands changing the wall panels and setting up the props between scenes. A talented volunteer, Jo Davis, has designed the costumes to reflect the time period and the styles of the characters, who are working-class urban people with guarded dreams of what can be.
If you don’t remember the film’s story line, it follows a few months in the lives of the employees at Maraczek’s perfume shop. Mr. Maraczek (played alternately by Eli Linnetz and John Routson) becomes increasingly finicky as he worries about an anonymous tip-off that his wife is involved with one of his employees. Clerks Ilona Ritter (Amy Edwards) and Steven Kodaly (Rory Stillman) have been involved but they’re rapidly becoming ex-lovers. Delivery boy Arpad (Zac Geoffray) wants to be a clerk, longtime employee Sipos (alternately Linnetz and Dylan Braun) just wants to survive, and George Nowack (Ethan Corn) and new worker Amalia Balash (alternates Jane Kivnick and Zoe Rose) bicker all the time, while never suspecting that each is the other’s “dear friend,” pen pals from a “lonely hearts club.”
The students are obviously enjoying their roles in She Loves Me. Speaking to the Mirror after a matinee show, thespians Edwards and Linnetz spoke about their budding careers.
Edwards, a senior, has done six shows at Samohi, including recent productions of Hello Dolly and Bye Bye Birdie. Although her schedule is currently busy with applying to colleges, she is happy to be in She Loves Me because she feels “it’s really professional for a high school group.”
Linnetz, also a senior, has been acting since childhood, but has only recently joined the productions at Samohi. In regard to playing two very different roles (Maraczek and Sipos) he says: “My biggest fear is that I’ll come out saying Sipos’ lines when I’m dressed as Maraczek.” But he adds: “You have to focus on the part you’re playing at the time and don’t let [your other role] get in the way.”
She Loves Me plays 8 p.m. on Fridays, 2 and 8pm Saturdays, through December 21. Santa Monica High School, 601 Pico Blvd., 310.395.3204 x239.