ACT presents ‘She Loves Me’ | AspenTimes.com

ACT presents ‘She Loves Me’

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen, CO Colorado

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Last year, for the organization’s 30th anniversary, Aspen Community Theatre pulled out the big guns. They celebrated three decades with “Fiddler on the Roof,” which not only earned nine Tony Awards ” including one for best musical ” in its original Broadway run, in 1964, but also spun off into an acclaimed and popular film, which was nominated for the 1971 best picture Oscar. ACT’s production featured some 50 actors and sets that sprawled across the Aspen District Theatre stage.

Rita Hunter, who has been producing ACT’s shows since 1980 ” and, since 1985, in a team with co-producer Jody Hecht ” knew going in that this year’s fall musical would not be last year’s model. The 31st anniversary doesn’t have quite the cachet of the 30th, and there aren’t many shows with the songs and instant name recognition of “Fiddler.” On top of that, the Aspen District Theatre was undergoing renovations, and while it was promised that the venue would be ready on time, Hunter ” who was once married to a contractor ” wasn’t about to put all her chips down on a prompt construction crew. So Hunter booked the Wheeler Opera House, with its smaller stage, fewer seats and tiny wing space, and settled on a smaller production for a show that is relatively anonymous: “She Loves Me.”

“Most people think it’s ‘She Loves You’ ” the Beatles,” she said.

Presenting a lesser-known show has its challenges. Hunter and her team are a bit more meticulous in such areas as publicity; she has been coaxing all the cast members ” just 21 of them ” to pitch the event to their friends and families. The backstage crew, after working at the District Theatre for the past decade, has had to rethink its approach. Set designer Tom Ward came up with a revolving stage that turns from scene to scene.

Mostly, ACT has been ensuring potential audience members that obscure doesn’t necessarily mean forgettable. “She Loves Me,” in fact, earned five Tony nominations ” including for best musical ” in its 1963 Broadway opening, and it had a successful revival in 1993. The New York Times recently picked the show as one of the essential musicals of the ’60s. ACT has been emphasizing the idea that the musical might be more familiar than people recognize. The source material, the play “Parfumerie” by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo, has also been adapted into three films: “The Shop Around the Corner,” “In the Good Old Summertime,” and “You’ve Got Mail,” a 1998 movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. “She Loves Me” features lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock ” who also collaborated on a better-known musical, namely, “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Another selling point for Hunter is the upbeat nature of “She Loves Me.” The story is of two co-workers in a 1930s Budapest perfume shop; while they bicker in person, they simultaneously fall in love through the personal ads.

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“This show is the epitome of musical comedy,” Hunter said. “It’s light, funny and a lot of fluff. You can act ” not over the top, but be out there. There’s nothing serious about it. There’s no issues.” Adding to the frothy appeal, the onstage couple is played by a real-life couple: John and Nikki Boxer.

ACT’s production, directed by Michael Monroney, plays up the hearts and flowers. “Because it’s set in 1930s Europe, it’s kind of the last hurrah before the war,” Hunter said. “People dressed up; they wore hats and gloves. We’re going with that idea ” it was a capsule of time before people had so many worries. Every girl in the show wears gloves and a hat; every guy wears a hat. It’s very Old World. We didn’t want dark and drab. And a lot of it takes place during the holidays, with lots of references to Christmas. There’s a lot of ‘happy holidays’ feeling to it.” The mood is reflected in Ward’s candy-colored set designs.

Hunter expects that a small-scale production will have its own rewards. “We knew that can’t always go with the safe crowd-pleaser,” she said. “But this will be a crowd-pleaser. Because there’s going to be no expectations. With ‘Fiddler,’ they know the show; they’ve seen the movie.”

Another bonus has been the intimacy. The cast is small; the space is small. Unlike recent shows, there are no children in the cast ” the youngest members are the two high schoolers ” making for an all-adult atmosphere.

Perhaps best of all, it has been a test of the community support for ACT. And the community seems to be passing. Hunter says ticket sales are on par with past productions. Audiences seem to be lured not only by the show but by the people presenting it.

“This community has been so supportive of community theater,” she said. “Even if we don’t make money ” and the revolving stage was expensive ” the board decided that would be OK. It’s a gift to the community, and they’ve been so generous in the past.”

At least one person is thrilled with this year’s downsizing. Costume designer Kathleen Albert, says Hunter, “is in heaven, because it’s only 21 people.”

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com.

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