'SHE LOVES ME' AT THE ADC
Jerry Bock is one of the few people alive that I would die (almost) to meet and interview for The Cambridge Critique. Now aged 94, the New Yorker wrote the words to the wonderful songs in that timeless classic, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. He and his composer collaborator Sheldon Harnick were also responsible for ‘Rothschild and Son’ which I saw (twice) at the Park Theatre in London last year. To be honest that musical biopic of the banking family was fascinating but essentially one for anoraks like me. I am fascinated by forgotten shows.
Two years before Fiddler did his Chagall-like dance on the shetl rooftops, Bock and Harnick produced ‘She Loves Me’ which did very well on Broadway (coincidentally it was the same year that the Beatles brought out ‘She Loves You’ which is no relation to this show). I have long enjoyed the songs on the original cast album but never had the chance to see it live – having also missed the recent London production at the Chocolate Factory.
So it was with great anticipation but some misgivings that I bought a ticket to see ‘She Loves Me’ at the ADC Theatre. It is a student production and that can be a hit and miss affair so much dependent on the cohort of talent available. Also – would the show live up to the catchy and clever songs I knew from my Spotify playlist? The answer is a resounding ‘YES’. This Cambridge University Musical Theatre Soc production was one of the very best I’ve seen in the 30 odd years I’ve been going to that cosy little auditorium in Park Street. Firstly the show is an absolute hoot with a tight and convincing plot. The musical is based on a 1930s play by a US-Hungarian writer called Miklos Laszlo. If you remember the movie, ‘You’ve Got Mail’, it is essentially the same plot: a couple exchange romantic love letters as members of a lonely hearts club only to discover that in real life they are workmates in a Budapest perfumery who simply despise each other. The simple story is amply embroidered with a neat sub plot and the stage is filled with colourful and generally very likeable characters. Unusual in a musical, you do get to know and care for them on their sinewy journey through the story.
There are over 20 songs in the piece – catchy, witty and redolent of 1930s Central Europe (when and where the action is set). It is a demanding score full of Sondheim-like patter songs and close harmony ensembles. There are some lovely paradoxical moments such as some venomous lyrics set to a languid Viennese waltz tune. Towards the end is a brilliant Gilbertian parody of the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’, a very funny take on the mad buying habits of Yuletide shoppers.
To cap all this was the quality of both acting and singing. Really top class and as good or better than anything you will see on the local amateur stage. Shining out were the two leads Annabelle Haworth as the lovelorn but sharp-tongued Amalia and her nemesis cum epistolary lover Robin Franklin as the store assistant Georg. There was real chemistry between these two who can not only pitch every note with Broadway precision but also have the dramatic skills to match. Haworth particularly has star quality as her character’s mood turned on a florin from sweet Juliet to Lady Macbeth.
The rest of the cast were no less wonderful in every department including dance. Mariam Abdel-Razek was excellent as Georg’s fellow shop assistant; she brought dramatic weight to the part and also had at least one show-stopping song to sing. Also noteworthy was Ben Cisneros who hit the top notes as the suitably slimy cad Mr Kodaly and his jilted girlfriend Ilona played with convincing scorn by Capucine May. I could go on because the CUMTS society is clearly blessed this year with outstanding talent. My only reservation was that the show suffered a little from ‘ADC disease’ – this is the choice of using heavy and cumbersome sets to lug around noisily in the dark – less is always more in theatre; and a tendency to play mostly downstage – come to the front guys, it’s a great place to be.
That said, this was a lovely show – brilliantly done and worth cancelling plans to go and see - ‘She Loves Me’ – I loved you (Jerry Bock - I love you too).