“She Loves Me”
“She Loves Me,” as presented in an absolutely exquisite production at Studio 54 on Broadway, is a honey of a musical that should appeal to all ages. “She Loves Me” is a Roundabout Theatre Company production and they have really struck gold here. With an impeccable cast and a luscious scenic design, this “She Loves Me” is sheer bliss. Of course, it helps that the score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and the book by Joe Masteroff are pretty close to perfection to begin with. Still, the strength of the best of musicals can be mishandled, if not revived properly. That is most certainly not the case here. “She Loves Me” is a jewel box of a musical, filled with many assets and treats, and ranks as one of the most pleasurable shows that I have seen in ages.
From the opening moments of the terrific overture, director Scott Ellis has created a delicious world onstage, with the action of the show taking place in 1934 Budapest. The plot is easy to sum up: two salespeople at a Hungarian parfumerie, who don’t get along at all, are unknowingly writing letters to each other through a Lonely Hearts club. The strength of the source material (originally a play by Miklos Lazlo), is so surefire that it has worked in films from “The Shop Around the Corner” to “You’ve Got Mail.”
Still, as stated, that doesn’t always guarantee a successful revival. But director Scott Ellis has chosen the perfect leads for his production: Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi. Having seen Benanti enchant in appearances in New York from Cinderella in “Into the Woods” to a stunningly sung concert version of “The Most Happy Fella,” this actress almost reaches a zenith here, playing Amalia Balash, a role created by the immortal Barbara Cook. The songs for Amalia are so identified with Barbara Cook’s peerless soprano, though, that any performer taking on this part must deal with inevitable comparisons. Fortunately, Laura Benanti comes up aces from start to finish. Her three big solos, “Will He Like Me?”, “Dear Friend,” and “Ice Cream” are gorgeously put forward by Benanti and, what’s more, she seems to be having a wonderful time onstage, with her performance ranging from funny to truly heartbreaking.
It is a good thing that Zachary Levi matches his costar perfectly. Levi previously starred in a Broadway musical called “First Date” (which I did not see), but he is almost something of a revelation in “She Loves Me.” He plays Georg Nowack, and not only is he delightful in his acting, but his singing voice is grand, as well. From his first solo, “Tonight at Eight,” to his big second act title number (in which he even does a cartwheel), this actor is a joy and seems to have a natural talent for musical comedy performing.
It is happy news, indeed, that the supporting cast is just as wonderful. The glorious Jane Krakowski (whom I have loved since her star-making role as Flaemmchen in “Grand Hotel”) is just as luscious and funny here and proves to be a complete pleasure, especially in her songs, “I Resolve,” and, even more so, in her delectable rendition of “A Trip to the Library.” She even executes a perfect split and is a ravishing presence throughout.
As her would-be Lothario, the wonderfully slimy Gavin Creel makes the most of his somewhat dastardly role of a heel, Steven Kodaly. Jack Cassidy won a Tony Award playing this part in the original production of “She Loves Me” and Creel milks everything he can out of the role. The perfect split that Jane Krawkowsi does is during Gavin Creel’s near showstopping number “Ilona” in the first act, and this actor also scores highly in his “Grand Knowing You” exit song. Also making a terrific impression in this show are adorable newcomer Nicholas Barasch, as Arpad; the touching Byron Jennings, as Mr. Maraczek, who owns the parfumerie that the show takes place in; and Tom McGowan, who is pretty great as the weak-willed character Sipos.
Actually, just about the whole cast is stellar in this deliriously enjoyable revival of “She Loves Me” and the show looks pretty scrumptious, as well, from David Rockwell’s Tony Award winning candy-box of a set to Jeff Mahshie’s perfect costumes. This revival is ideally lit by lighting designer Donald Holder and the estimable Paul Gemignani leads the enchanting orchestra, who are placed in the boxes on either side of the stage. Happily, this “She Loves Me” was just filmed for a livestreaming broadcast, with talk that the video may eventually be shown in movie theaters. Still, I’d recommend trying to catch this completely lovable revival of “She Loves Me” at Studio 54: I doubt I can think of another show currently running on Broadway that will leave you smiling as big, and you may find yourself a little teary-eyed, as well.
“She Loves Me” continues performances at Studio 54 in New York City through Sunday, July 10, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.roundabouttheatre.org or call 212-719-1300.
Photo: Laura Benanti and Jane Krakowski
Photo by Joan Marcus