The Daily Gamecock

Preview: 'She Loves Me' musical looks to weave together tales of comedy, romance

<p>The cast of “She Loves Me” performs on stage during a dress rehearsal at Drayton Hall Theatre on the University of South Carolina campus. Performances are set for Feb. 23 through Feb. 25.</p>
The cast of “She Loves Me” performs on stage during a dress rehearsal at Drayton Hall Theatre on the University of South Carolina campus. Performances are set for Feb. 23 through Feb. 25.

Imagine if your least favorite coworker just so happened to secretly be the love of your life.

Opera at USC’s upcoming musical, “She Loves Me,” considers this concept in a wild comedy set in 1930s Budapest, where secrets and misunderstandings lead to an unexpected romance.

The musical centers around two shop employees, Georg and Amalia, who constantly argue and antagonize each other at work but, as part of a “Lonely Hearts Club,” unknowingly exchange romantic letters as anonymous pen pals.

The show was first conceived as the Hungarian play "Parfumerie" in 1937. The story has had a lasting appeal on audiences and artists over the years and has since been adapted into many different mediums, such as the original 1960s Broadway musical and popular films such as "You've Got Mail," said Ellen Douglas Schlaefer, the director of Opera Studies and Musical Theatre at USC.

"It’s just that type of show where you feel, 'Oh, maybe they’ll get together, maybe they won’t,'" Schlaefer said. "It makes me feel good."

Schlaefer said she is looking forward to watching the show be brought to life as a student-led production with minimal faculty involvement. She enjoys seeing the students take initiative on their own, she said.

"We did it from beginning to end with only a few hiccups, and that’s when the kids start taking ownership," Schlaefer said. "They’re the ones up on the stage. (If) something goes wrong, I can’t do anything about it. They got it. It’s their show, and when they start to realize that, that’s exciting to me."

First-year orchestral conducting master’s student Jordan Brooks is the first student conductor for Opera at USC in several years. He is excited to see the scale and frenetic energy of the show's songs come to life on stage, he said.

"Whenever there’s an element of that kind of madness taking place with more and more people on stage, and more and more action and more and more singing, that’s probably my favorite aspect of the show," Brooks said.


Brooks compared the show to modern workplace comedies such as "The Office," because it is full of jokes, sarcasm and chaotic situations. The show’s style of humor is one that invites audiences to predict which direction the scenes will go, he said.

"The comedy is kind of built on the audience knowing what’s coming, but it still has to play out on stage," Brooks said.

Brooks said the encounters between the two main characters become increasingly humorous as the audience witnesses the stark contrast between their fiery arguments at the shop and their wholesome conversations through the letters.

First-year opera theater master’s student Ross Wiley plays the shopkeeper, Mr. Maraczek. He said the show has little downtime, which helps it avoid a common issue many two-act shows face.

"Traditionally, there’s a problem that every play or musical in two acts has, which is, how do you get people’s interest back after intermission?" Wiley said.

The second act starts fast and doesn’t let up, with rapid-fire songs keeping audiences entertained and invested right up to the end, Wiley said.

"This show comes back with seven fantastic songs all in a row, and each one is so different," Wiley said. "They're all sort of show off numbers for each member of the main cast and the chorus. So the ride throughout act two is really great and fresh and keeps it rolling along to its conclusion."

First-year opera theater master's student Victoria Brodeur, who plays Amalia, said one of her favorite aspects of the show is the direction the second half takes her character in. As the show progresses, Amalia slowly begins to favor Georg himself over his anonymous alter ego, she said.

"At that point, quite a few wild things have happened to lead up to it," Brodeur said. "She’s kind of gone a little hysterical."

Brodeur said that while the show is a period piece, its timeless themes of romance and longing will still be relatable for modern audiences, even if the concept of love letters has been largely replaced by online messages.

"Right now, we use dating apps, so it's a little (different). The time period’s different, but I think the concept is very similar," Brodeur said. "People still have the same feeling. They'll link up with someone from a dating app …  You go through the whole, the same feeling like 'Do I like them? Do I not? Are they going to like me?'"

"She Loves Me" will be performed at the Drayton Hall Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 23 and 24 and at 3 p.m. on Feb. 25. Tickets are available on the University of South Carolina Marketplace's website.