By Tulis McCall
If chocolate came without calories She Loves Me, now at Roundabout’s Studio 54 would be the show to make it happen. Whatever vestige of the rollicking days of mirror balls and disco madness that was imbibed in a variety of flavors remained in this hallowed space have now been officially irradiated. This production has scrubbed Studio 54 so clean it squeaks. Which is not a bad thing at all.
Based on the 1937 play Parfumerie by Miklós László that was made into not one but THREE Movies – The Shop Around the Corner (1940), with James Stewart, Frank Morgan, and Margaret Sullavan; as In the Good Old Summertime (1949), with Judy Garland, Van Johnson, and S. Z. Sakall and finally You’ve Got Mail (1998), with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan this show is proof that you cannot, cannot cannot kill a good story.
1934 Budapest – there is no mention of any political shenanigans anywhere – and a young couple Georg (Zachary Levi) and Amalia (Laura Benanti) looking for love in the classified section of an, egad, newspaper, find themselves enmeshed in a pretty hefty correspondence. In life they are occasionally brittle or annoying or worse. But on paper their hearts can sing away. And the best part is they NEVER have to meet. Ever, Ever. Ever. Why meet and risk not being attracted when they can go on forever just as they are – stuck in a rut with only dreams for bed-mates.
BUT!!! Wouldn’t you know it. Fate pulls them together to work in the same Parfumerie, owned by the benevolent Mr. Maraczek (Byron Jennings). Also on hand are the gal who can’t say no, Hona Ritter (Jane Krakowski) and the slippery but suave Steven Kodaly (Gavin Kreel) – the exact person to whom she cannot say it. A perceptive and easy going clerk who will agree with just about anything in order to keep his job is Ladislas Sipos (Michael McGrath) completes the group along with the delivery boy with ambitions Arpad Lazlo (Nicholas Barasch). And there you have it. Oh, there is intrigue and deceit. There is heartache and loss. There is danger and retribution. There is some spectacular dancing. And there is vanilla ice cream.
But most of all there is a budding romance that had a load of comedy folded into it. Fortunately both Benanti and Levi are excellent comedians. One hopes that Benanti will continue to find or create comdcie rolls of herself for that is where she truly excels. Levi combines a bit of danger with goofiness and when love comes knocking he is ready for cartwheels. As the two begin to fall in love you can almost hear the audience whimpering like puppies.
When the clinch finally arrives, choreographed with a one-two-three gotcha, everyone applauds. As they should. This musical pulls you in and makes the entire evening a group effort. Directed by Scott Ellis (and with a stunning set by David Rockwell) this is one terrific package just in time for Spring.
And if you want a real treat – download the original cast album with Barbara Cook…. That’s what i did. I’m just sayin’.
She Loves Me – Book by Joe Masteroff; music by Jerry Bock; lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; based on a play by Miklos Laszlo; directed by Scott Ellis
WITH: Laura Benanti (Amalia Balash), Zachary Levi (Georg Nowack), Gavin Creel (Steven Kodaly), Byron Jennings (Mr. Maraczek), Michael McGrath (Ladislav Sipos), Jane Krakowski (Ilona Ritter), Peter Bartlett (Headwaiter) and Nicholas Barasch (Arpad Laszlo).
Choreography by Warren Carlyle; music direction by Paul Gemignani; sets by David Rockwell; costumes by Jeff Mahshie; lighting by Donald Holder; sound by Jon Weston; orchestrations by Larry Hochman; dance arrangements and incidental music by David Krane; hair and wig design by David Brian Brown; makeup design by Christian McCulloch; production stage manager, Scott Taylor Rollison; technical supervisor, Steve Beers; associate managing director, Steve Dow; associate artistic director, Mr. Ellis; executive producer, Sydney Beers. Presented by Roundabout Theater Company, Todd Haimes, artistic director; Harold Wolpert, managing director; Julia C. Levy, executive director; Ms. Beers, general manager. Through June 12 at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, roundabouttheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.