WHAT “She Loves Me”
WHERE Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.
INFO $52-$147; 212-719-1300; roundabouttheatre.org
BOTTOM LINE Loving revival of intimate musical
“She Loves Me” never was your conventional boffo-Broadway musical. Written, astonishingly, just a year before Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick flipped their sensibilities to create the earthy seismic wonder of “Fiddler on the Roof,” this earlier musical comedy is sophisticated, intimate, gently romantic in its old-world European stylishness.
The Roundabout Theatre Company, which had an important success with the musical’s first Broadway revival in 1993, has dipped affectionately back to the sweetheart of a show for the company’s 50th anniversary. There is cause for celebration.
The production, again directed with tender exactitude by Scott Ellis, now has the unstoppably appealing Laura Benanti and the equally winning Zachary Levi as the warring perfume sales clerks who don’t know they’re secret pen pals. If the setup of Joe Masteroff’s book sounds familiar, you might know it from Miklós László’s 1937 play, or more likely, from such wildly contrasting movies as “You’ve Got Mail” and “The Shop Around the Corner.”
By no means, however, is this a two-person show. Benanti and Levi are surrounded in the ’30s Budapest shop by Jane Krakowski, delightfully adroit as the naughty-and-nice, unapologetically sexual co-worker, Gavin Creel as her dashing cad of a lover and Michael McGrath as the less theatrically assertive but no less essential salesman. Equally first-rate are Byron Jennings as the heartsick owner of the elegant, failing shop and newcomer Nicholas Barasch as the delivery boy, glowing with stars in his eyes and a big career in his future.
This is a long-lost world where women shoppers put on their best hats to buy cold cream and impeccable salesmen look snappy in their gray suits. (The enviable costumes are by Jeff Mahshie.) And every time someone walks out with a purchase, the gallant sales staff lines up to sing a tune of ritual thanks.
About these songs. They have melodies that tumble against one another as if Bock and Harnick are giddy with the overlapping rush of spirited ideas and dance rhythms from waltzes to the habanera. And there are plenty of florid operetta demands for Benanti, who wears a role created by Barbara Cook with a lyrical yet sturdy sense of her character’s worth and sense of humor.
Above the stage, on both sides, is a raised orchestra directed by the master of intricate Stephen Sondheim musicals, Paul Gemignani. And David Rockwell’s set, framed like a wavy ladies’ dressing table, opens up as if it’s a Fabergé egg decorated inside as well as out. Nothing is flashy or pushy. Everything is lovely.