Donald Birely has directed more than 40 musicals over the course of his career. He has performed in countless shows, including national tours - most notably "Beauty and the Beast" in 2006. He also has run his own production company in New York City, where he lives, for the past 26 years. For the past several weeks, however, he's been directing the Williamsport-based Community Theatre League's production of the musical "She Loves Me."
"This is an old-school 'Golden Age' type of Broadway musical, which I love. It is upbeat and happy and has just terrific characters and songs," Birely said in an email interview.
Birely explained that the musical's premise is basically the same story as the 1998 film "You've Got Mail": "two young people ... have fallen in love, sight unseen, with their pen pals from a Lonely Hearts Club.
A store clerk played by Sharon Ippolito dances with George Nowack, played by Jonathan Hetler — one of the two lovelorn main characters — in “She Loves Me.”
Amalia Balash, played by Jaclyn Gilbert — one of the two main characters in “She Loves Me” — sells a customer a musical candy box in the Community Theatre League production which opens Dec. 6.
They don't realize that they know each other and work together every day in a parfumerie - and get on each other's nerves! The show follows their search for love, and eventually their discovery that sometimes the best things in life are right in front of our noses all the time. Along the way, we follow the colorful exploits of the a few co-workers as well, which makes for great fun!"
"You've Got Mail" wasn't the first to tackle the story - nor was "She Loves Me"; the musical came as the third adaptation of the play "Parfumerie," written by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. The story (in all its iterations) has remained so popular that it has stayed in public consciousness - and on stages - for decades.
The Community Theatre League's production, showing at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6, 7, 12, 13 and 14 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 15, will feature live musicians.
Among them, Jacquie Engel will play piano, Steve Lindenmuth and Marisa Hickey will play keyboards and Sheila Hornberger will play the woodwinds. Martena Rogers is the show's music director.
Jonathan Hetler and Jaclyn Gilbert will play Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash, respectively - the musical's two lovelorn main characters.
Sharing the stage with them will be Sharon Ippolito, Jason Moyer, Sean Engemann, Joshua Adams, Greg Keefer, Keith Wagner, Sean Temons, Jim Carpenter, Sherilyn Lovell, Nicole Miele, Maureen Richards, Lesley Shuman, Kirsten Hickey and Teagan Marty. Cheryl Appleton is the show's stage manager.
For Birely, there's something special about the Community Theatre League (CTL):
"I have seen a few shows over the years at CTL, and directed shows at Millbrook Playhouse nearby. This area has a lot of talent, and CTL particularly is a tremendous organization. I have worked with community theaters in several states and in different areas of the country, and I can tell you that the board members and volunteers here are among the most passionate and hardworking I've seen anywhere. It's been a joy to be a director working with them and to feel so much support."
One of the ways the CTL has shown its support has been by working around Birely's schedule. "The main obstacle," he said, "has been distance. I live in Manhattan, so the drive was always going to be the issue. The CTL has allowed me to group the rehearsals, to make travel easier for me, thankfully."
Birely also believes that the show is great for this time of year: "The second act of the show takes place at Christmas time, and I hope it will fill audiences with the spirit of giving and the holidays. I think everyone will leave with a warm heart and a smile."
Some of the Community Theatre League's upcoming shows include "The Great Gatsby," which will be a student production; a children's production of "The Wizard of Oz"; and musical performances by the Williamsport City Jazz Orchestra and the Vocal Jazz Quartet (VJQ).
Tickets are available at www.ctl shows.com and at the Community Theatre League, 100 W. Third St. "She Loves Me," directed by Donald Birely, will show at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 and 7, at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12, 13, and 14 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 15. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the box office between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays at 570-327-1777.