Theater & dance

Stages

You’ve got mail, and the makings of a romance in ‘She Loves Me’

Director Ilyse Robbins (center) with Jennifer Ellis and Sam Simahk at a rehearsal for “She Loves Me.”
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Director Ilyse Robbins (center) with Jennifer Ellis and Sam Simahk at a rehearsal for “She Loves Me.”

In “She Loves Me,” romance is revealed through the gift of vanilla ice cream.

In that pivotal scene in which two co-workers, Amalia and Georg, awaken to the possibility of love, their realizations happen separately, with Amalia singing “Vanilla Ice Cream” alone in her room and Georg singing “She Loves Me” out on the street.

“It’s not your typical love story, which is why it’s my favorite musical,” says Ilyse Robbins, who is directing “She Loves Me” at the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham Nov. 24-Dec. 23.

Advertisement

“There’s a wonderful vulnerability to these characters,” says Sam Simahk, who plays Georg. “They are genuinely surprised by the possibility that someone might love them.”

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Based on the 1937 play by Miklos Laszlo, “She Loves Me” follows the story of two department store clerks who irritate each other at work, but unbeknownst to each other are secret pen pals connected through a lonelyhearts club ad. The story has inspired several films, including “The Shop Around the Corner,” “The Good Old Summertime,” and “You’ve Got Mail.” The musical, with a book by Joe Masteroff (“Cabaret”), lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and music by Jerry Bock (“Fiddler on the Roof”), feels more like “a play with music rather than a musical,” says director Robbins.

“There’s an opportunity to develop characters and have conversations unfold, and it’s not as highly choreographed as ‘Dames at Sea,’ ” the musical Robbins directed for Greater Boston Stage in September. But, she says, in addition to the love story, the musical explores the idea of how people with different personalities work together.

“The workplace often throws people together who aren’t alike,” she says. “There were people I worked with I’d never be friends with outside of work. And yet you find something to respect about them. You need to trust each other because you rely on each other to get the job done.”

Simahk says he’s enjoying the opportunity to work on a character after spending a year in the ensemble of the national tour of “The King and I.”

Advertisement

“It was a great experience,” he says, “and it helped me pay off my student loans, but I missed the opportunity to work on meatier songs and characters.”

Much of the story hinges on that moment when two people who didn’t quite get along realize they are falling for each other.

“It’s not hard to have chemistry when you are playing opposite Jen Ellis,” says Simahk, referring to one of the stars of the Huntington Theatre’s recent “Merrily We Roll Along.” “She’s the kind of scene partner you can throw something at and she’ll roll with it and add to it. When you can relax and know your partner will be there for you, the rest is easy.”

Finding those connections is what makes “She Loves Me” special, he says.

“Amalia and Georg are afraid of being ordinary,” Robbins says. “But when they find something special in each other, it changes the way they view the world and brings them happiness.”

An inspired ‘Baby Jesus’

Advertisement

Every Gold Dust Orphans show manages to combine unexpected plot lines with outrageous song-and-dance routines, but this year’s holiday offering, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jesus?,” folds in story lines from three different films, according to writer-performer Ryan Landry. He cites “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” “Strait-Jacket,” and “Summer Stock.” But director Larry Coen says it’s probably closer to five — he’d add “White Christmas” and “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.”

“Audiences loved the murder-mystery theme of last year’s ‘Murder on the Polar Express,’ ” says Landry, “and I bow down to Agatha Christie’s ability to make us care about each of the characters in her stories, let alone the way she pulls all the clues together. Working with these complex stories allows me to give all the actors juicy parts.”

After choosing the title and thinking about the movies, Landry says he always writes with specific actors in mind. For “Whatever Happened to Baby Jesus,” which runs at Machine Nov. 30-Dec. 23, Landry turned to Michael Underhill, who nearly stole the show as Icarus in last spring’s “Greece.”

“We spent a lot of time together,” Underhill says with a laugh, “with 40 performances of ‘Greece’ in Boston, Provincetown, and New York. As Ryan was writing the new script, he would send us movies to watch and mention characters we should be thinking about.”

Underhill plays Joe, the director of the summer stock theater company that arrives at a farm they will share with Blanche and Jane Hudson (of “Baby Jane” fame) after Jane’s release from an asylum. His character is based on the role Gene Kelly played opposite Judy Garland in “Summer Stock,” but of course there are obstacles, and ax murders, that get in the way of the theater company’s success.

“When the troupe arrives at the farm, the company members are at the end of their rope,” Underhill explains.

But no sooner do they arrive when they are told they can’t perform, and Joe delivers a speech Underhill says touches on points Landry has made to the Gold Dust Orphans before a show.

“The truth is, we don’t do this for the money,” says Underhill. “My wife [Kiki Samko, who is also in the cast] and I have full-time jobs, and performing allows us to tap into different sides of ourselves. I think anyone who’s ever performed will recognize the lines about the hard work that goes into putting on a show, and the elation and excitement of an opening night and the audience response.”

SHE LOVES ME

Presented by the Greater Boston Stage Company, Stoneham, Nov. 24-Dec. 23. Tickets $45-$60, 781-279-2200, www.greaterbostonstage.org

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.