Loving She Loves Me, Part II
There is a whole lotta love to be found at Studio 54 these days, in the absolutely charming revival of She Loves Me (book by Joe Masteroff, Music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick). The curtain opens to a little jewel box of a set (delightfully designed by David Rockwell) that took me back to the late 1980’s in my hometown of London, Canada, at the beautiful Grand regional theatre. She Loves Me was the first professional theatrical show I had seen on my own accord, buying my own student subscription, and this was the first production of the season (oddly enough, this show is also Roundabout’s first foray into musical theatre back in 1993, Scott Ellis directed Boyd Gaines and Judy Kuhn). I remember being wide eyed with enchantment when the lovely Christmas-like present of a set is first revealed in all it’s glory, just as it was the other night. It was like falling in love all over again, with theatre, and with this sweet lovely show.
I don’t recall who was in that Grand Theatre production way back when, but I think I will always remember this glorious production and cast courtesy of the Roundabout Theatre Company. In actuality, this musical, dating back to April 23, 1963 when it first appeared at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre (Harold Prince directed Daniel Massey and Barbara Cook), is not the most sophisticated, by any means. But in and around this charming 1934 Budapest Parfumerie, where this story is set, is an assortment of the best and the most talented group of sales clerks there is, trying to prepare themselves for a busy Christmas season. Laura Benanti just shines with a feisty fun and completely lovable portrayal of Amalia, the new sales clerk who just can’t seem to get along with the handsome and charming Georg (a thoroughly wonderful Zachary Levi). Levi returns to the stage majestically fully in command of himself and this part.
These two obvious love birds are a match born in rivalry heaven, and to no one’s real surprise, unbeknownst to each other, these two are writing each other love letters through a lonely hearts club. It’s straight out of Nora Ephron’s 1998 film, You Got Mail (or should I say that in reverse- being that Ephron based her movie on this musical and the original Miklos Laszlo’s 1937 play Parfumerie) and it’s done here as perfect as anyone could muster. Benanti was born to play this role, (no wonder she says she waited for this role) and ever since I saw her in Women on the Verge do that crazy perfect song ‘Model Behavior’ (https://youtu.be/s6Ve_s-Bzfs) and when she killed it and won a Tony Award for playing Louise in Gypsy opposite Patti LuPone and Boyd Gaines, I was waiting until the right lead role made its way to her, and here it is boys, here comes Laura. Simply put. Perfection.
And then, standing right there with Benanti, is the absolute stunner of a Broadway star, Jane Krakowski, who sadly hasn’t appeared on a Broadway stage since her spectacular Tony winning role and her show stopping entrance and exit performing ‘Call From the Vatican’ in 2003’s Roundabout revival of Nine (https://youtu.be/7GVdUdVU6m8). She is just so perfect in this wonderful part, shop clerk Ilona, that it seems to have been crafted just for her. Everything about the part is tailor made to display Krakowski’s long legs, her sexy….well, everything, her brilliant comic timing, and her amazing voice, especially in the delicious number, ‘A Trip to the Library’.
Surrounding these two perfect Broadway ladies, directed once again by Scott Ellis, is an impeccable supporting cast of pros. There isn’t a sour note in the lot. I particularly loved Nicholas Barasch as Arpad, who’s wide eyed innocence and love of the shop, reflected back my own wide eyed self and my love of this show. It’s a beautifully crafted and written show, a bit old fashioned, but with some surprisingly modern twists and turns. The show reminds us what it is like to fall in love, but beyond that, it reminds me of the beginning of my love affair with theatre in general. So thank you, She Loves Me, and I love you right back.