Saturday, May 7, 2016

She Loves Me: Prepare to Be Swept off Your Feet

Charming and delightful. These are the two words that best describe everything about the Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway revival of She Loves Me, from the actors, to the music, story, and set design. Watching this show is like eating a delicious truffle - it looks tempting and manages to both satisfy you and leave you wanting more.

She Loves Me is an adaptation of Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo's play, Parfumerie. But the more relevant description (to me, at least) is that it is the musical version of The Shop Around the Corner, one of my all-time favorite movies starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan (which was subsequently re-adapted as the similarly beloved You've Got Mail, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan). So obviously, the story is beyond reproach. Here's a quick summary of the plot: Amalia and Georg both work as a sales clerks in a parfumerie in 1930's Budapest. They quarrel all the time and are not fond of each other, but unbeknownst to them, they have been exchanging anonymous letters for months after answering a lonely hearts newspaper ad. So while they fight in person, they are falling in love via mail, and you can see where this is all headed.

Deftly directed by Scott Ellis, the revival stars Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi and they are simply magnificent. Benanti is an established Broadway star with a fantastic voice and incredible comic timing - her reactions and interpretations of every song are a wonder to behold. Levi was always affable and wonderful in Chuck, but now I know the man is also divine on stage and makes a worthy partner for Benanti. If it wasn't enough to have two dazzling leads, the supporting cast has the fantastic Jane Krakowski as Ilona Ritter, a role that showcases her astonishing singing, dancing, and comic chops. Gavin Creel is a worthy foil to her as the sexy but duplicitous Steven Kodaly, while Byron Jennings, Michael McGrath, and Nicholas Barasch round out the cast as the other colleagues who bring the bustling parfumerie to life. Peter Bartlett also has a memorable interlude as the much put-upon Headwaiter in a restaurant that specializes in a "romantic atmosphere" but can't quite pull it off.

We spend a great deal of time with these supporting actors, as this is a story about all of the joys and mishaps that take place in this little parfumerie over the course of a year. While Georg and Amalia are ostensibly the leads, you find yourself caring about every member of this store and hoping that as Christmas approaches, they all receive a happily ever after ending (except Kodaly, of course). David Rockwell's set design is whimsical and twinkly, with the storefront opening up like a Polly Pocket toy (as aptly described by my friend Katie) and revealing a store filled with charming people and possibilities where various subplots can percolate and unravel to keep you entertained for the best two and half hours of your life. Jeff Mahshie's costumes are sumptuous and evocative, transporting you to the 1930s and making you loath to return to the present. And lest I forget, this is a musical, stuffed to the gills with hilarious, romantic, and catchy songs that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a swing in your step. I dare you to watch this clip of Laura Benanti singing "Vanilla Ice Cream" and not buy a ticket to see this show immediately (or at least buy a pint of Ben & Jerry's).

She Loves Me is the perfect romantic Broadway musical. It has brilliant actors, an engaging plot, a sublime score, and overall, a whirling sense of wonder and whimsy that makes the world feel like a brighter place. It is soul-satisfyingly good, a reminder that people can never have enough of silly love songs.

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