Wineke: Madison Opera goers say “Same to You,” for “She Loves Me.”

Edquist And Biller
CREDIT: Madison Opera
CREDIT: Madison Opera

The midwinter opera is always a time for Madison Opera to innovate and this year it innovated by not staging an opera.

“She Loves Me,” which played to pretty much full houses over the weekend, is a Broadway play, based on a movie, which, in turn, was based on a play, pretty much a romantic comedy with dark overtones.

That being said, “She Loves Me” was pretty much what we needed this year as we struggle through another year of Covid and hope, fitfully, that the end of the pandemic might just be in sight.

Or not.

At any rate, the plot of the production is that penpals George Nowack, sung by Ben Edquist, and Amalia Ballash, sung by Susannah Biller, are clerks in a Budapest perfume shop who dislike each other intently but are unaware their mutual dialogue as penpals comes from one another.

Its origins trace back to a 1937 Hungarian play, “Parfumerie,” and remade into “She Loves Me,” the musical version, in 1963. In between, the story was made into a 1940 movie, “the Shop Around the Corner,” starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan, a 1949 movie, “In the Good Old Summertime” starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson, and, again, in 1998 as “The Shop Around the Corner,” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Rayan.

But the story actually works better as a play than as a movie. The need for rapidly changing sets (here, they consist of three large frames on wheels that the cast can move around to set new scenes, and the ability to sit close to the action brings the audience into the play in a way that a big-screen movie cannot.

Although Biller and Edquist have the principal roles in the plot, the story really needs each of the roles played by a fairly large cast.

Jeff Mattsey – who first sang with the opera in 2010 – sings the role of Zoltan Maraczek, the shop owner, who is betrayed by his wife with Steven Kodaly, sung by Andrew Bidlack, a clerk who is also having an affair with Illona Ritter, sung by Emily Glick.

One result of the ensemble casting is that the Madison audience, which almost always gives stars a standing ovation, rose to its collective feet as soon as the curtain fell and long before Biller and Edquist came out for their curtain call.