Love is in the Air, Dear Friend
She Loves Me was a charming success when it premiered in 1963 starring Barbara Cook and Daniel Massey as star-crossed perfumery clerks who unknowingly fall in love with each other through a series of letters. And while Hello, Dolly! was the big winner at the Tony Awards that year, Jerry Bock, Joe Masteroff, and Sheldon Harnick’s sweet adaptation of the Hungarian play Parfumerie has also stood the test of time.
Scott Ellis directed the Roundabout’s 1993 revival and now, 23 years later, he revisits the piece with a stellar production that will leave you with a gleeful smile. Set designer David Rockwell creates a jewel-toned backdrop for Maraczek’s Parfumerie as well as several other locations loosely set in “a city in Europe” in the 1930s, according to the script. There are fluid references to Art Nouveau (rather than the city’s famous Bauhaus movement) and Jeff Mahshie’s costumes nod to the era while still allowing for musical theater pirouettes and splits.
George (Zachary Levi) is the head clerk and when Amalia (Laura Benanti) arrives looking for a job, sparks fly, but not the romantic variety. The pair seem to unnerve each other at every turn, all the while each is corresponding with a potential mate through a Lonely Hearts Club. Oh, what life was like before Tinder and every other swipe-if-you-like-me app! The shop, owned by Mr. Maraczek (Byron Jennings) also employs swarthy Steven Kodaly (Gavin Creel) and his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Ilona (Jane Krakowski). Arpad, the delivery boy (Nicholas Barasch) is hankering for a promotion, while Maraczek suspects that one of his employees is having an affair with his wife.
While not necessarily plot heavy, there are enough sweet-scented wafts to keep things moving along and allow Bock and Harnick’s score to shine as well as a scene-stealing cameo by Peter Bartlett as the headwaiter at a restaurant where Amalia hopes to meet her “Dear, Friend.”
Benanti is tasked with a mezzo-soprano character role that occasionally sounds technique-driven in her upper register, but there’s no denying her delightful attack, which vacillates between endearingly clumsy and softly seductive. Levi, who cut his teeth on Broadway two seasons ago in the short-lived First Date, delivers a long-limbed and endearing performance with whispering echos of Jimmy Stewart, who played the role in the book’s film adaptation, The Shop Around the Corner. Creel and Krakowski are affable sidekicks, the former probably more suited to the lead role and the latter proving why she was a four-time Emmy Award nominee for her hilarious turn in 30 Rock. And the aforementioned splits? That would be Krakowski’s doing.
She Loves Me is an escape to an imaginary jewel-toned time where boy meets girl and love blooms in just a few short seasons. It’s a sweet, reminiscent scent, and befitting the Roundabout’s 50th anniversary season that celebrates its original mission to produce classic plays and musicals.
She Loves Me
254 West 54th Street, NYC
Through June 12