New York City Theater
"She Loves Me"
All hail Jane Krakowski! The smart, funny, sexy, adorable actress, now starring in a lovely revival of “She Loves Me,” has toiled too long in the vineyards of television. Back where she so marvelously belongs, laws should be passed to keep her on the boards and away from cameras.
As the lovesick Ilona Ritter, a fun-loving woman seeking permanence and respect, Krakowski doesn’t quite walk away with the show. So many other elements contribute to the evening’s manifold pleasures: other actors, the director, the designers, the music, the lyrics, the charming story. But she’s incandescent.
The Broadway premiere of “She Loves Me” was in 1963. Despite critical praise, its intimacy practically foreclosed smash hit status (it ran for 302 performances). “Parfumerie,” Miklos Laszlo’s Hungarian play on which the musical is based, germinated other incarnations: “The Shop Around the Corner” (James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan), “In the Good Old Summertime” (Judy Garland and Van Johnson) and “You’ve Got Mail” (Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks).
Georg Nowack, chief clerk in Mr. Maraczek’s perfume shop, has a secret penpal, Amalia Bash. When Amalia first seeks and gets a job at the boutique, she and Georg take an instant dislike to each other, or so it appears, not realizing they’ve fallen in love through exchanges of letters. Their icy relationship eventually thaws of course. After all, as one song goes, the evening creates “A Romantic Atmosphere.”
As Amalia, Laura Benanti is not only a glorious singer but shows what a superb comedienne she can be. The scene in her bedroom, when Georg surprises her with ice cream, leads to a resplendent coloratura aria that pinpoints her reluctant attraction. She and the scene ooze such charm and humor that the role may be a game-changer for the star.
Tall, dark and handsome Zachary Levi makes less of an impression, turning the shy Georg into an aggressive and self-assured go-getter. Yet he imbues the title song with infectious exuberance.
Colorful characters in the employ of Mr. Maraczek (the always reliable Byron Jennings) are two male clerks, the meek Ladislav Sipos (an antic Michael McGrath) and the bold rake Steven Kodaly (an insinuating Gavin Creel), who’s having a not-so-secret affair with Ilona. Arpad Laszlo, the delivery boy aspiring to become a clerk, is played by the ingratiating Nicholas Barasch, with Peter Bartlett doing his hilarious shtick as a Headwaiter and Michael Fatica joyous as a dancing Busboy.
With more than 20 memorable musical numbers (music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) and a perfect book by Joe Masteroff, this is a show with great heart. Touching and tuneful, it’s an enduring work.
Warren Carlyle’s choreography is sprightly, David Rockwell’s set is in keeping with the show’s nostalgia, softly lit by Donald Holder, with just-right period costumes by Jeff Mahshie. Music director Paul Gemignani lets his orchestra get over-enthusiastic at times, but the blissful score triumphs.
Above all, director Scott Ellis keeps a firm hand on events, without indulging the sentiments of a candybox show, full of delicacies yet not chokingly sweet. Set in 1934, this hymn to innocence and love is a last gasp of romanticism before darkness descends on all of Europe.
--David A. Rosenberg
April 5, 2016