Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis

Act One

We are in 1930s Europe at Maraczek's Parfumerie. Ladislav Sipos, a clerk at Maraczek's, enters with his face buried in a newspaper. Arpad, the shop's delivery boy, follows him on his bicycle. They spot their coworkers, Ilona Ritter and Steven Kodaly, at the nearby newsstand. Arpad observes that, although it is obvious that the pair spent the night together, they are pretending to arrive separately. The shop's manager, Georg Nowack, joins them. Everyone remarks on the nice weather and dreams of relaxing rather than working. They jointly conclude that work cannot be avoided. During their banter, we learn that Mr. Nowack has dinner every week with Mr. Maraczek and his wife. At dinner the evening before, Mr. Maraczek revealed that he is not planning to replace a recently departed clerk. Mr. Maraczek appears, and the staff enter the store to start their day ("Good Day, Good Morning").

A group of customers arrive, and the clerks begin their selling chores ("Sounds While Selling"). At the first opportunity, Georg confides in Sipos that he has received another letter from a woman with whom he has been corresponding through a "Lonely Hearts" column. Although he has never even seen her picture, their relationship is progressing.

Mr. Maraczek asks Georg for a stomach pill, claiming that, every time Georg is a guest at his home, Mrs. Maraczek makes a fattening dish that gives him heartburn. He suggests that Georg consider settling down and reflects on the way that he used to dance the night away when he was a bachelor ("Days Gone By"). He then produces a new item to add to the store's stock, which he is sure will be a hit: musical cigarette boxes. Georg is skeptical. Kodaly, however, feigns enthusiasm in order to impress the boss. Mr. Maraczek makes a bet with Georg that the shop will sell the first box within the hour.

Customers arrive and they share Georg's opinion of the boxes. Amalia Balash enters, looking for a sales position. When the rival parfumerie, Hammerschmidt's, closed down, she was left without a job. Although both Georg and Mr. Maraczek insist that they are not hiring, Amalia persists. She manages to sell one of the leather-covered music boxes to a reluctant customer, even though she has no idea what purpose the box serves ("No More Candy"). Mr. Maraczek, delighted to win his bet with Georg, hires Amalia. George is less impressed with her.

It is now autumn. Georg writes a letter to his "Dear Friend," pouring out his hopes and dreams to her ("The First Letter"). Kodaly and Ritter have an argument; Kodaly tries to repair the damage, but she rejects him. Similarly, Georg and Amalia are at each other's throats while George reports the tension in the air to his "Dear Friend" ("The Second Letter"). Sipos tells Arpad that Georg and Amalia argue because they like each other, even though they aren't aware of it.

Suddenly, it is now winter. As Amalia reads a letter from her "Dear Friend," we learn that the couple plans to meet for the first time on the following Tuesday ("The Third Letter"). Amalia arrives on the day of the rendezvous, wearing a new outfit. Although she is late, Georg doesn't notice. He is too concerned about Mr. Maraczek, who is now constantly upset with him. Mr. Maraczek shows Georg a defective tube of cold cream, suggesting that the defective product is Georg's responsibility. After the confrontation with Maraczek, Georg confides in Sipos that he is meeting the letter girl face-to-face that evening and is highly nervous. Georg confesses that he has embellished himself in his letters as he anticipates scenarios for the evening ("Tonight at Eight").

As Amalia and Ilona wrap Christmas gifts together in the workroom, Ilona is shocked to learn that Amalia has never met the man she loves ("I Don't Know His Name"). Amalia explains that, although she had never answered an ad in a Lonely Hearts column before, she has connected on multiple levels. Ilona begins to wonder if Amalia's lack of concern about her sexual attraction for this stranger may have some merit; she considers the possibility of spending her hours with a library card and gramophone instead of a deceitful man like Kodaly.

Mr. Maraczek continues to pick on Georg. He is angry that the shop has not been decorated for Christmas and insists that everyone stay late to do the job that evening. When Georg says that he can't, the argument escalates. Georg demands to know why his work was acceptable for fifteen years and suddenly, nothing he does seems to be right now. Sipos pushes over a stack of music boxes to distract Mr. Maraczek and end the argument. He is trying to keep Georg from resigning in anger because he fears for his own job ("Perspective").

When Georg tells everyone that Mr. Maraczek wants them to stay late to decorate, Amalia accuses Georg of picking this night because he knows she has a date. Their argument escalates. Georg goes back to the selling floor, and Mr. Maraczek goads him about not staying after hours to decorate. Georg insists that he has always been as devoted to the shop as if it were his own, and Mr. Maraczek explodes. The unexpected depth of his fury so startles and alarms Georg that he resigns; Ilona and Sipos are extremely upset. Amalia sees Georg in the workroom clearing out his locker and realizes that he is leaving. She assures him that she never meant him any harm, but he responds snippily. Ilona, Sipos, Kodaly and Arpad try to say goodbye to Georg as they tend to their demanding customers ("Goodbye, Georg").

Later, Amalia worries about meeting her mystery man ("Will He Like Me?"). As they decorate, Ilona and Kodaly argue about their breakup. Kodaly convinces Ilona to go out with him one more time ("Ilona"). Mr. Maraczek abruptly sends them home. Kodaly breaks the date he has just made with Ilona when he realizes that he can now keep an earlier engagement, and Ilona vows never to be vulnerable to Kodaly or any other man like him again ("I Resolve"). Georg grabs Sipos as he leaves the shop and begs him to deliver a letter breaking his date with his mystery girl, who is waiting at the Café Imperiale. Although she is waiting, Georg is too upset to deal with meeting her tonight.

Inside the shop, Mr. Maraczek is visited by Keller, a detective he has hired. Maraczek has received an anonymous letter suggesting that his wife has become romantically involved with one of his clerks. Keller confirms the affair. However, he reveals that Mrs. Maraczek is not involved with Georg, as Mr. Maraczek had suspected, but Steven Kodaly. Mr. Keller leaves as the telephone rings; it is Mrs. Maraczek calling. She lies to him about visiting a female friend that night. He exits to his office. Arpad appears as a gunshot rings out. The gunshot segues into the sound of a tray dropping in the Café Imperiale.

Amalia waits at the romantic cafe with candles, a roving violinist and lovers at the tables ("A Romantic Atmosphere"). Sipos and Georg enter. Sipos sees Amalia and realizes the truth. Georg sees Amalia and turns to run away. He says that he can't let her know that he wrote her the letters; she would make him the laughingstock of the city. Sipos reminds him that it was Amalia who wrote the letters that meant so much to him. Georg insists that he can't be in love with Miss Balash.

Confused by the possibility that Amalia could be his "Dear Friend," Georg sits at her table. They immediately begin to argue and Georg makes up a story about a young woman who suffered a horrible end because she answered a Lonely Hearts ad. The waiter hears their argument and asks them to leave – they're ruining the atmosphere ("Mr. Nowack, Will You Please…"). Although Georg is trying to discover if there could be something more between them, Amalia, totally unaware of the possibility that he could be her "Dear Friend," says deeply painful things to him. He leaves, and she immediately regrets her remarks.

She confides in the waiter that her date is more than two hours late, and he gives her a free carafe of wine, but Amelia is still devastated by her situation ("Dear Friend").

Act Two

Mr. Maraczek is in bed in the hospital, being spoon-fed by a nurse. His shoulder is bandaged. Arpad then appears. He has been running errands for Mr. Maraczek and is going to help conceal the truth about the attempted suicide. Arpad tells Maraczek that Miss Balash is ill. He decides that this is the perfect opportunity to ask for a promotion from delivery boy to clerk ("Try Me"). Georg arrives as Arpad leaves. Mr. Maraczek apologizes to Georg and explains the cause of his recent behavior. He asks Georg to take over the shop in his absence and to fire Mr. Kodaly with two weeks' salary. In passing, he mentions that Miss Balash is ill. Georg leaves as Mr. Maraczek reflects on his return to bachelorhood ("Days Gone By – Reprise"). Arpad comes back in and they agree that he will split his time as delivery boy and clerk.

Amalia is in bed in her apartment when Georg arrives with news that he has his job back. She assumes that he has come to spy on her and get her fired for staying home. She attempts to get dressed to go to work ("Where's My Shoe?"). Georg tries to convince her to rest. He straightens the room and tells her that he has brought her vanilla ice cream. She eats the ice cream and tells him that she is a very disillusioned girl. He apologizes for his behavior at the cafe. When he realizes the extent of her depression, he assures her that "Dear Friend" will write again, claiming that he met "him" at the cafe. Georg suggests that "Dear Friend" had to take a train out of town on urgent business. When Amalia begins to probe for details, Georg describes the imaginary friend as older and bald. She is disappointed but immediately insists that appearances don't matter. She thanks Georg for coming to give her hope and gives him a grateful kiss. He is galvanized by the kiss. She says that she is going to write the friend a letter. Georg makes a comment about Anna Karenina, which is identical to one that he made as "Dear Friend" in his letters. Amazed at the coincidence, Amalia announces that she likes him. They part until the morning. Amalia tries to write a letter, but keeps being interrupted by thoughts of Georg ("Vanilla Ice Cream").

Georg is thrilled and celebrates the fact that he loves Amalia and she loves him, although she doesn't know it ("She Loves Me"). Inside, Ilona and Sipos welcome Georg back to work. As Georg leaves the workroom to fire Kodaly, Ilona tells Sipos that she no longer cares what happens to Kodaly because of an experience that she has had in the library. While she was trying to get up the courage to check out a book, she met Paul, a kindly optometrist, who took her back to his flat and read to her all night ("A Trip to the Library"). After Georg announces that he has fired Kodaly, Sipos confesses that he was the one who wrote the anonymous letter to Mr. Maraczek. With a declining economy, he was afraid that someone might be fired and he wanted it to be Kodaly. He now regrets the action because it harmed Georg; next time he will name names in his anonymous note.

Arpad appears in the shop to work as a clerk ("Grand Knowing You"). The next morning, Georg greets Amalia as frenzied shoppers hurry around the store. During the next few days, their relationship begins to blossom amidst the holiday rush ("Twelve Days to Christmas"). On Christmas Eve, the clerks are exhausted after a frantic day. Georg plans to take the very long cash register tape to the hospital to cheer up Mr. Maraczek. He tells Sipos that he thinks Amalia is going to invite him to her house for Christmas Eve, but that she also expects the "Dear Friend" to be a guest.

 Amalia extends an invitation to Georg and asks him to help her with "Dear Friend" if the conversation gets too deep. Mr. Maraczek appears with champagne for everyone. He asks Georg to go to dinner, but understands when Georg says that he has a previous engagement.

Ilona's new flame has come to pick her up. She grabs two books and her new eyeglasses and leaves. Sipos leaves to spend Christmas with his family. Mr. Maraczek decides to take Arpad out to a fine dinner. Georg and Amalia leave the shop together. She drops a package and he realizes that it is a music box. She says it is a gift for for her "friend," and he claims that he now likes the boxes because they remind him of her arrival in his life.

While watching her sell her first music box, he remembers thinking that she was the kind of girl with whom he could fall in love. She says that she was attracted to him then, as well, and it is a shame that he never spoke up. He begins to quote from one of her recent letters to "Dear Friend," and she reveals that she was hoping that Georg would be the friend. Finally embracing, they express their great joy at sharing the truth ("Finale / Vanilla Ice Cream – Reprise").