February 6, 2014 • 09:25:06 a.m.

Labor of love: Williams Street Repertory to stage ‘She Loves Me’

By JAMI KUNZER - jkunzer@shawmedia.com

(Photo provided)

Roger Zawacki has wanted to direct the musical “She Loves Me” for more than 40 years.

He finally got his chance with Crystal Lake-based theater company Williams Street Repertory.

“I’m in seventh heaven with my favorite small musical of almost all time,” Zawacki said. “I’m having a wonderful time with this show.”

“She Loves Me” opens at 8 p.m. Feb. 7 and runs through Feb. 16 at the Raue Center for the Arts, 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake. For tickets and information, visit www.rauecenter.org.

Based on the third adaption of the play, “Parfumerie,” by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo, the musical follows the storyline of the 1998 film version, “You’ve Got Mail” featuring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

In the musical, the plot revolves around Budapest shop employees Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash who, despite being consistently at odds with one another at work, are unaware that each is the other’s secret pen pal met through lonely-hearts ads.

The musical premiered on Broadway in 1963.

“Most theater people consider it one of the best theater scores written and probably the best of the 1960s,” Zawacki said. “None of the songs really became famous, but they’re all wonderful and fit the story and the mood and the characters so perfectly.”

It’s described as the ideal show to see on and around Valentine’s Day. Funny, honest, sentimental, warm, romantic.

“It’s one of those shows if you don’t walk out of the theater smiling, then we have not done our job,” said Amanda Flahive, who plays Ilona in the musical and manages the Sage Studio theater workshop program for the Raue.

“That’s our goal in this show, to really truly make people fall in love with the characters,” she said. “There’s a lot of dance and pretty candy-colored costumes. It’s just a fun, happy, lighthearted musical.”

The show comes on the heals of Williams Street Repertory’s recent awards for a different type of musical, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Performed last October, that show won four BroadwayWorld Chicago awards. The theater company’s next production is “Barefoot in the Park,” starring Flahive and opening in May.

Since forming several years ago, the company’s reputation has grown.

“Williams Street is definitely making their name prominent,” said Deric Gouchenauer of Chicago, who plays the lead, Georg, in “She Loves Me.” “I think in a couple years you’ll see more Chicago actors coming out.”

As Georg, Gouchenauer said he has gotten a rare opportunity to play a lead, as he’s usually cast as “the second banana, the guy who falls down and makes everybody laugh.”

“But ‘She Loves Me’ is a show where the second banana really gets to be in the spotlight,” he said. “He’s kind of a goofy personality that gets to fall in love with the girl. He’s more of an everyman that people can really relate to.”

Since garnering attention for “Sweeney Todd,” Williams Street Repertory has gained a whole new audience, those involved said.

That, combined with Zawacki’s enthusiasm, has made “She Loves Me” an endearing project for all involved, Flahive said.

“He brings his passion to the project every day,” she said of Zawacki. “When you’re working with someone who’s wanted to do the show for so long, it takes on this special importance. I’ve always loved the show and thought it’s a classic and adorable piece of musical theater.”

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