Actors Stefan Espinosa and Venessa Ballam are correspondents – but don’t know it – in the charming musical “She Loves Me” currently being performed by the Utah Festal Opera & Musical Theater at the Utah Theater on Center Street in downtown Logan (Photo by Waldron Creative).
LOGAN – In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a total sucker for musicals where Venessa Ballam and Stefan Espinosa perform together.
Call me corny, but there’s something incurably romantic about a husband and wife falling in love all over again right before your eyes.
I’m also a huge fan of the Jerry Block-Sheldon Harnick musical. She loves Mecurrently performed by the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theater.
Granted, it’s one of the most underrated shows you’ve ever heard of. Somehow, none of the beautiful music on this show ever made the leap into the standard songbook. In fact, you don’t remember any of the scores of She loves Me five minutes after leaving the theatre.
But the show – conducted by George Pinney with Nick Pothier conducting – is irresistibly charming and made even more so by a sensational cast of UFOMT performers.
The plot of the series is totally predictable, but that’s because She loves Me has deep roots in the world of entertainment.
Hollywood first told this story of co-workers – who, despite disagreeing at work, are unaware they are secret pen pals through lonely hearts commercials – as The corner shop with James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan in 1940.
The first musical adaptation of the story appeared as In the good old days of summer in 1949 with Van Johnson and Judy Garland.
So there is You’ve got maila 1998 e-mail comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
In 1995She loves Me was the first musical I saw Michael Ballam perform in and now his daughter and son-in-law are on stage in the same show.
Espinosa plays Georg Novak, a salesman in a Hungarian perfumery in the 1930s. He has struck up an admittedly unlikely relationship with a pen pal who turns out to be a co-worker Georg heartily hates face-to-face.
Espinosa normally plays clowns and loyal sidekicks in UFOMT productions. This time he gets the girl…and what a girl.
The Crown Princess of UFOMT, Mrs. Ballam is Amalia Balash. Although she’s typecast in mostly aristocratic roles, this time around she’s letting her hair down. Imagine Vanessa Ballam sitting on a bed in her pajamas eating ice cream and singing. Yeah, that affects me too.
The other cast members are equally excellent.
Local audiences are familiar with Lindsey Kelstrom, who is now a graduate directing and starring with other Cache Valley companies at UFOMT. Mrs. Kelstrom is wonderfully sweet in her supporting role as Ilona Ritter, an unlucky saleswoman who just can’t find the right man for her – until the second act.
His rendition of “A Trip to the Library” is – well – charming; I can’t think of a better word to describe it.
Bryce J. Bartu is Store Clerk Steven Kodaly—Ms. Kelstrom’s bad guy. It plays this role to oily perfection.
The other inhabitants of the store are Alexander Spence as delivery man Arpad, Fatu Su’esu’e as clerk Ladislav Sipos and – of course – our very own W. Lee Daily who does a delightfully understated tour as Mr. Maraczek.
Kudos to director Pinney for the imaginative direction. She loves Me could have been played as a very small casting affair. Instead, Pinney threw away everything but the kitchen sink – hordes of store customers, tango dancers in a cafe scene, even a fun Christmas rush that must have been a puzzle to choreograph .
This cafe scene also gave Timothy Stewart and David Postlewate a chance to shine as hilarious waiters and busboys.
For my money She loves Me is the crowd-pleasing sleeper hit of the 2022 UTOMT season.
But that’s just me.
The matinee performances of She loves Me are scheduled for July 15, 19, 26, 29 and August 3 at the Utah Theater on Center Street in downtown Logan.
A single evening performance of the show is scheduled for July 22 at 7:30 p.m.