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He loves ‘She Loves Me,’ which is why Roger Christensen can’t stop singing

Long, long before there was the internet, people still managed to connect romantically. One way they did was a peculiar (and today mostly unknown) practice called writing letters. Lovers would actually pen notes to each other. Not emails or texts, but actual ink on paper. Pretty wild, eh?

Pictured above: Teddy Maldonado, left, and Roger Christensen in a scene from ‘She Loves Me.’ Photo: Good Company Players

Which brings us to the small and beloved musical “She Loves Me,” a new Good Company Players production opening Friday, Oct. 25, at the 2nd Space Theatre. In it, two employees in a perfume shop fall for each other by writing letters to each other — even though they dislike each other in person. This chipper and tuneful 1963 show features lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock, who would go on to write “Fiddler on the Roof.” Surprisingly, the show has never been staged by Good Company.

I caught up with veteran GCP performer Roger Christensen, a big fan of “She Loves Me,” who is tickled to be in a show he’s always loved. We corresponded by both the old-fashioned way (by phone) and the new-fashioned way (email).

Q: So, Roger, it seems as if the poor folks in 1930s Budapest had to get by without Tinder. (We’re never told specifically it’s Budapest, but it sure seems like it, complete with Hungarian character names.) What did people do before they could swipe left or swipe right?

A: The city in “She Loves Me” is filled with stylish attractive people who are more than willing to dissipate themselves in cabarets and dance halls in search of some impossible love.

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Q: “She Loves Me” has been around for a long time, but these days, when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t know about the show, the explanation usually includes: “It’s the story that inspired the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail.’ ” Do you use that line as a selling point? Did you like the movie?

A: I always reference “You’ve Got Mail” when talking about “She Loves Me.” You can talk until you are blue in the face about what a gold mine the musical is, how marvelous the book and the music is, and people’s eyes just glaze over. But it’s not until you mention that one of it’s core storylines was adapted into the movie “You’ve Got Mail” that you make the sale and you hear, “oh my God, I have to see that!” I’ve always liked the movie, but to me it’s an appetizer to the treats laid out in “She Loves Me.”

Q: Tell us about Georg and Amalia. They work together in a little Hungarian perfume shop and don’t get along, but they fall for each other through the anonymous letters they write to each other. There is something so sweet about that. Do you wish there was more old-fashioned romance around today?

A: “Old fashioned romance” is such a fraudulent deception. (He says after watching “Now, Voyager” — a 1942 film starring Bette Davis and Paul Henreid — alone in the dark once again.

Q: Do they describe themselves physically in their letters? Or is it all about the intellect?

A: Amalia plainly, and maybe defensively, states that she doesn’t need “to see his handsome profile … or manly frame.” They believe that they have become soulmates by revealing what they love in books, art, and music. It’s grand. And precarious.


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Q: You really like this musical. Why? Do you have a favorite part?

A: My favorite part is the cafe scene where their fantasies collide with reality and happenstance. It’s hilarious, and painful, and a little cruel. The scene mocks our romantic expectations but it makes us love George and Amalia more than ever.

Q: You play Mr. Maraczek, the boss. Compose a “personal ad” for him to introduce us to the character.

Mr. Marascek is an older wealthy man married to a younger woman he probably met in a dance hall. If she responded to his ad it was probably “Generous silver daddy seeks eager cabaret girl.”

Q: Matchmakers have been around for, well, probably forever. Sure, the technology has changed: You go from Yenta to “She Loves Me” to Fresno Bee phone ads to Match.com to Grindr (ick). Still, it’s probably better that way instead of having dad make the pick or getting carried off as war booty. What do you think?

A: You find someone attractive in a public place. You engage in a conversation about movies. They say something stupid about a film that is essential to your life. You run home and lock the door. Watch “Carrie,” “Picnic” or “Vertigo.” The end.

Good Company Players

Emily Pessano is Amalia and Teddy Maldonado is Georg in ‘She Loves Me.’

Q: It’s fun that you get to be in the 2nd Space Theatre for the production. You’re a GCP musical theater veteran, but you’ve never been in a musical in that space, right? What do you think it will be like to be that close to the audience?

A: I have always wanted to work in the 2nd Space. But I worry. I’m so big and booming. They are so close. It could be gruesome. This is why you need a good director.

Q: Your director is Elizabeth Fiester, who is also a big fan of the show. What insights have you gleaned from her?

A: Yes, and this brings us to Elizabeth Feister. One of those Fresno theater legends that amazingly I had never met until she cast me in “Hairspray” earlier this year. I remember her killer comic timing in “Steel Magnolias.” Well, she certainly knows how to work the 2nd Space. I trust her instincts. She can freely pounce when she feels you are going in the wrong direction and she creates a safe and supportive environment. She has also seen many productions of “She Loves Me.” That alone puts her in a rare category!

Q: Give us an update on yourself. You moved to L.A. from Fresno years ago, and then you moved back. Why?

A: I performed for GCP in those initial pre-Music Hall years 1973 through 1977. Moved to Los Angeles in 1978 where I managed art house cinemas. Came back in 2009 to care for my beautiful mom, Bernice, who died last year at 97. Returned to GCP in 2014. I hope to be alive and cast in a show in 2023 so I can say I was in GCP’s first season and its 50th. That would be cool.

Q: You recently went to the Grand Canyon with fellow GCP stars Shawn Williams and Greg Ruud. (See, I pay attention to Facebook.) Give me a road-trip secret.

A: The trip was fueled by us watching the mind-blowing Monument Valley landscapes in John Ford’s “The Searchers.” After watching the film, we said, “Let’s go!” En route, at midnight and under a nearly full moon, we peed over the Grand Canyon. Shawn played the harmonica. It was spiritual.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

A: “Wow! They made a musical of You’ve Got Mail?” I heard someone say. Years ago, former GCP costume designer Chris Moad directed what may have been the only production of “She Loves Me” I am aware of in Fresno. I have loved this show for over half a century. And now it’s finally here. The box office tells me that it is doing well. What a thrill this is!


Show info

‘She Loves Me,’ opens 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, 2nd Space Theatre. Continues through Dec. 22. Tickets are $20, $18 seniors and students.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

Comments (1)

  • Steve

    While She Loves Me is a nice little musical with a familiar story line, you may want to also check out the dated-but-hilarious 1940’s movie “The Shop Around the Corner” starring Jimmy Stewart, which was remade into both this musical AND You’ve Got Mail. I’m looking forward to seeing this GCP production.

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