“She Loves Me” at Roundabout’s Studio 54
The great challenge of any musical revival is ourselves—specifically, our memories of the cast we first saw, the scenery and costumes. It’s even worse if we have a cast album and know by heart not only the words and music, but also the musical dynamics, phrasing and inflections. This is the challenge I faced attending the final preview the current Roundabout revival of She Loves Me. Will it be as good as I remember?
It took a scant ten minutes to win me over. David Rockwell’s scenery was first: A block in Budapest in 1934 against the sides and back of the stage with Maraczek’s parfumerie, where most of the story takes place, front and center. Outside the colors are warm, blue gray. Into this scene bikes Arpad, the eager parfumerie messenger, sitting tall as he rode onto the stage. Played by a confident, talented, carrot-topped, high school senior, Nicholas Barasch, Arpad tipped us off that we were in for a treat. Each of the store’s distinctive employees came on stage one at a time—the sexy Ilona wearing the same dress as yesterday, (the always wonderful Jane Krakowski), her cad of a lover, Kodaly, (a deliciously smarmy Gavin Creel), Sipos, the reticent friend to all (an excellent Michael McGrath), Georg, our leading man and all around good guy (Zachary Levi with a charming, boyish manner and a great big manly voice. His title song rendition was a show stopper.) and finally Mr. Maraczek, the parfumerie’s owner (a take command Byron Jennings, brittle and warm at the same time), who arrived with the keys.
When he opened the doors, the scenery pulled back to reveal a sumptuous store—yellow walls and purple, maroon and blue glass bottles shimmering on the shelves. Fashionable ladies arrived, were greeted immediately and sung to by the staff as they departed with their purchases—“Thank You Madam, please call again. Please call again, won’t you?”
At last Amalia, our leading lady arrived, searching for a job. She snagged one by slyly convincing a customer to buy a difficult-to-sell, leather-covered candy/cigarette music box. Laura Benanti shined as Amalia and exceeded my wildest expectations and memory of the incomparable Barbara Cook. No one could match the famous, bell-like tones of Cook, but it didn’t matter. Benanti has a beautiful soprano all her own and brought a special spunkiness to Amalia.
Check, check, check and check—all the characters were being acted and sung brilliantly. I could relax and enjoy the ride of that magnificent score by Bock and Harnick and an update of a wonderful, classic musical.
If you’ve seen The Shop Around The Corner, first a play then a black and white film, then a technicolor film musical, In the Good Old Summertime, and most recently as the film You’ve Got Mail, you know the story. Two members of a lonely hearts club have been writing to each other and falling in love letter by letter. In She Loves Me, they meet at the parfumerie without knowing who each is, and take an instant dislike to each other. After many glorious, emotionally revealing songs, funny scenes, it eventually works out—much to the joy of the audience, who cheered when Amalia and Georg revealed their identities as “Dear Friend,” confessed their love for each other and embraced. (Cheering for a happy ending also occurred during An American In Paris.)
Not everything about this production was totally perfect: “Will He Like Me?” a haunting ballad, wasn’t set up or given enough importance. I wish Benanti had shown more vulnerability and yearning even though her voice was heavenly. Scott Ellis, the director, breathed modern air into this old-fashioned story. He made it original and fun and funny. But just a few times too often the characters jumped up and down on a beds. It came across as silly. Finally, while Warren Carlyle’s choreography was more than workable, it was rarely surprising. Oh, Jane Krakowski gave us one surprise with her dancing which I will not spoil. The reliable Paul Gemignani was the music director of the 14-piece orchestra.
As of this writing, She Loves Me is scheduled to run only through June 12. It deserves to be extended. What a happy, joyous evening in the theatre!