I once heard the late director Moss Hart say that when a show is a great hit, there were omens that predicted its future. “For example,” he said, “when we were fine tuning My Fair Lady in Philadelphia prior to opening in New York, there was a day when it poured rain, and as I stepped out of my hotel to head for rehearsal, a taxi pulled up to discharge a passenger just as I hit the street. That’s when I knew we’d be all right.” I’d love to know when Scott Ellis, the director of this scrumptious Roundabout revival of She Love Me ran across his own omen, for he’s delivered a smashing production. And he accomplished that without any out of town tryout at all.
This charming musical adaptation of a Miklos Laszlo play and an MGM film (The Shop Around The Corner,) first arrived on Broadway in 1963, 19 months before Fiddler on the Roof, both by the same composer-lyricist team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. The book is by Joe Masteroff, who would have an even bigger success with Cabaret in 1966. She Loves Me was well received by most of the press, and it managed a respectable run of 301 performances. More importantly perhaps, it developed a large group of fans who’ve been waiting for the right combination of talents to bring it back to life. They’re been rewarded — here it is.
A revival can only leap from the stage and seem new again if it’s blessed with a first rate cast and a director who knows what to do with them. The achievement in this regard gives credit to Mr. Ellis and his casting directors Jim Carnahan and Stephen Kopel. Bock and Harnick’s score provides each principal with musical material that is sparkling, literate, informative — and fun. Even his ensemble of ten are each on target, and his principals have been chosen with care. Each number tells us something about the character to whom it’s been assigned. Starting with the smallest role, there is the always welcome Peter Bartlett as the maitre d’ in a swanky Budapest restaurant, whose mission in life is to create a “romantic atmosphere.” Each time some circumstance destroys his dream his reaction earns him three laughs where the authors would have been happy with one.
Moving on up, Nicholas Barasch plays the delivery boy in Maraczek’s Parfumerie. He has the presence and talent to make his every appearance count, and when his musical moment arrives with “Try Me” in Act II, he takes the stage with it. One can only smile in anticipation at the prospect of one day seeing his Harold Hill in The Music Man, his Albert Peterson in Bye Bye, Birdie, his Candide, or even better a new piece with a role he can call his own.
Michael McGrath returns to us (as luckily for us he does just about every season) as the older clerk at the parfumerie. His contribution is enormous, as it always is, for he can sing, dance and act with assurance, comic timing that’s impeccable, and a most amiable personality to project them out front to a very happy audience.
Byron Jennings brings years of experience, to the role of Maraczek, which has been played as a lovable dope (by SZ “Cuddles” Sakoff in one of the two films), by Frank Morgan in the original film) and by Ludwig Donath is the original Broadway production. Here, Mr. Jennings plays him for real – and his comeuppance late in the show is all the more moving because he plays both aspects of the character so well. He’s also effective in “Days Gone By,” his musical moment in the spotlight.
The two sets of lovers in this musical which very much concerns itself with matters romantic, are absolutely delicious. Zachary Levi and Gavin Creel could easily play any of the male star roles in Kiss Me, Kate, Oklahoma!, The Phantom of the Opera as well as most of the roles that furnished the entire careers of John Raitt, Alfred Drake, Richard Kiley and more recently Brian Stokes Mitchell and Brian d’Arcy-James. They could switch roles in this very production, and if they stick with it long enough, that’s not a bad idea.
The same might be said about the two gorgeous leading ladies. Laura Benanti and Jane Krakowski have brightened any number of musicals, and by switching hairdos they’d each be fine in either role here. But as the leading lady Amalia and her co-salesgirl Ilona, each is delivering a star turn.
Benanti’s “Ice Cream” (which Barbara Cook also knocked out of the box in the original production and Krakowski’s “A Trip to the Library” should be required viewing for every young would-be leading lady of the future. In each of these star performances, magic is created onstage. It’s been a long time since a score and the performance of it have been greeted with such vivid response. I could return tomorrow just to be allowed to study how these performers do it. Any one of them could carry a show alone. As a quartet, they offer the best bargain on Broadway in the current season.
Scott Ellis staged a major revival of the show in 1993 but this one is fresh as a daisy and is in every way an improvement. Choreographer Warren Carlyle has contributed lively hijinks, but this is not a ‘dancing show’ so his excellent work merely enhances the production as a whole. David Rockwell’s sets receive a well deserved hand (rare these days) and Jeff Mashie’s costumes are perfection. Everyone looks his or her best which is as it should be in a romantic musical, and Jon Weston’s sound design brings one of my hard-to-get raves for sound, proving as it does that everything can be crystal clear even when sung full blast by lovely sopranos and musical comedy chest voices. Bravo, Mr. Weston!
Forget your troubles, c’mon get happy. She may love Him, He may love Her, but I promise that by final curtain you will love them all.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission.