Sworn enemies remain blissfully clueless that the (e)mail friend each has fallen head over heels for (without ever having laid eyes on him/her) is none other than the one person on earth he/she simply can’t abide. It’s a formula that worked to perfection for James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around The Corner, for Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in In The Good Old Summertime, for Daniel Massey and Barbara Cook in She Loves Me, and most recently for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. And it works once again to perfection for Eddie Kaye Thomas and Deborah Ann Woll in Parfumerie, the play that started it all back in Hungary some 76 years ago, and is now the irresistible inaugural season opener of Beverly Hills’ brand new Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts.

Deborah_Ann_Woll_and_Eddie_Kaye_Thomas._Photo_by_Jim_Cox._SM Anyone unfamiliar with any of the above film and stage hits should stand warned. There will be spoilers ahead, it being almost impossible to write about Parfumerie without revealing its basic plot premise and comparing it with its many famous adaptations.

What’s fascinating about the oft-adapted Miklós László original is just how adeptly its writer told the very same story that Ernst Lubitsch filmed three years later and Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock, and Sheldon Harnick musicalized on Broadway in 1963 … and did so without ever setting foot outside Hammerschmidt’s Parfumerie. That’s right. Unlike The Shop Around The Corner and She Loves Me, which take us on a tour around Budapest (and most notably to the café where the two Lonely Hearts Club penpals-in-love almost meet), Parfumerie remains resolutely inside the Budapest perfume shop that gives the play its title.

1441278_625116624219881_804741646_n Those familiar only with movie or musical will be surprised to find our heroine already employed at Hammerschmidt’s for two years when the action begins two weeks before Christmas of 1937. You got it. The scene in which Amalia (Klara in the movie) gets hired on the spot after persuading a reluctant customer to buy the musical cigarette box that George (the movie’s Alfred) believes unsellable isn’t in the play. Also missing is the classic scene in which our love-struck hero goes to meet his “Dear Friend” for the first time only to discover that he already knows (and hates) her. (Surely you must remember how irritated “Shopgirl” Meg Ryan was when arch-enemy Tom Hanks showed up at the café instead of her email love “NY152,” not realizing that the two were one and the same.) And the scene which inspired Bock & Harnick’s exquisite “Ice Cream”—and Tom Hanks’ gift of a bouquet of daisies to a bedridden Meg—is likewise nowhere to be seen.

And yet, miracle of miracles, Parfumerie manages to work its magic entirely inside Hammerschmidt’s, and magical indeed this production is under Mark Brokaw’s almost perfect direction. (Brokaw falters only in rushing the play’s penultimate scene, not giving Amalia sufficient time to process George’s news and thereby denying the audience the pleasure of savoring her slow realization of just what he’s telling her.) The show runs close to three hours but you’d hardly know it, so enthrallingly does Parfumerie hold you in its romantic spell.

Los Angeles audiences owe a debt of gratitude to E.P Dowdall, whose 2009 adaptation of Florence Lazlo’s English language translation of the Hungarian original not only gives the 1937 a contemporary sensibility while retaining its 1930s setting, it has already racked up about two dozen regional productions in the past four years, and now provides the Wallis with a maiden venture theatergoers will be talking about, if only to rave about a) the beautiful new Bram Goldsmith Theatre, b) a sensational all-Equity cast of (count’em!) fifteen, and c) as gorgeous a production design as you’ll see in any topdrawer Broadway or regional house.

Eddie_Kaye_Thomas_and_Deborah_Ann_Woll._Photo_by_Jim_Cox_2.SM It’s hard to imagine a more appealing pair of bickering romantic leads than Thomas and Woll, filling some very big shoes indeed and filling them quite splendidly, generating abundant romantic sparks even while driving each other up the parfumerie walls.

A trio of supporting performances shine particularly brightly—Richard Schiff’s deeply felt, old-school Mr. Hammerschmidt (the jealousy-consumed parfumerie owner), Arye Gross’s marvelously mousy Mr. Sipos (Hammerschmidt’s deliciously insecure yes-man), and the scene-stealingest of them all, Jacob Kemp’s irresistibly peppy Arpad (the shop’s ambitious errand boy).

The roles of parfumerie lothario Steven and ditzy blonde Ilona have considerably less to do than their She Loves Me musical counterparts, but Matt Walton and Cheryl Lynn Bowers make the most of the underwritten roles. Jayne Taini (Miss Molnar), Adam Farabee (Fritz), and Tony Pasqualini (Detective/Old Gentleman) all shine in supporting turns, with a special tip of the hat to the high note on which Taini sings out the last syllable of the shop workers’ unison “Hammerschmidt’s thanks you. We hope to see you soon” upon each customer’s departure.

Completing the cast in sparklingly delineated cameos are Andy Goldenberg (Young Male Customer), Linda Griffin (3rd Lady Customer), Jackson Moran (Policeman), Ariana Shore (1st Lady Customer/Maid), and Jill Van Velzer (2nd Lady Customer).

Eddie_Kaye_Thomas_Cheryl_Lynn_Bowers_Arye_Gross_Jayne_Taini_and_Matt_Walton._Photo_by_Jim_Cox.SM Scenic designs don’t get any better than Allen Moyer’s exquisitely detailed perfume shop, filled with more period paraphernalia than a week’s worth of plays all put together. Michael Krass’s elegant 1930s suits, gowns and hats, David Lander’s vibrant lighting, Jon Gottlieb’s impeccable sound design, Paul Huntley’s era-perfect hair and wigs, and Peter Golub’s just-right original music all contribute to the caliber design found only in the finest American theaters. And the acoustics are pretty darn terrific too.

Casting is by Cindy Tolan and Adam Caldwell. Alexander Fraser is coordinating producer. Lora K. Powell is production stage manager.

Arriving just in time for Christmas, Parfumerie provides a holiday season’s worth of comedy, romance, and more than a few joyous tears along the way. It is easily December’s most richly romantic treat.

Bram Goldsmith Theater, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills.

–Steven Stanley
December 4, 2013
Photos: Jim Cox

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