In March of 2016, a whole lotta love could be found inside Studio 54, and I couldn’t wait to taste its sweetness once again when I saw it listed for streaming on BroadwayHD. The curtain opens up, just as I remembered, to a gorgeous little musical candy box of a set, spectacularly designed by the magnificently talented David Rockwell (-) that dances forth the absolutely charming revival of She Loves Me from Roundabout Theater Company for us all to delight in. With a charmingly sweet book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, the show, once again, took me back to the late 1980s when I first saw this little gem in my hometown of London, Canada at the beautiful Grand Theater. She Loves Me was the first professional theatrical show I had ever seen on my own accord after buying a student subscription for the theatre company, and the musical was the first production of the season (oddly enough, She Loves Me was also Roundabout’s first foray into musical theatre back in 1993 with Scott Ellis directing Boyd Gaines and Judy Kuhn). I can still remember being so wide-eyed with enchantment when the lovely Christmas-like present of a set first revealed itself in all its glory, just as it did streaming onto my laptop from BroadwayHD. It was like falling in love all over again, for the third time, with the grandness of musical theatre, and all those talented souls who together find such joy and love inside this little musical box.
I don’t recall who was in that Grand Theatre production way back when, but I think I will always remember this glorious production and cast courtesy of the Roundabout Theatre Company. In actuality, this musical dates back to April 23, 1963, when it first appeared at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, with Harold Prince directing Daniel Massey and Barbara Cook. The show is not the most sophisticated, by any means, but it does find a whole lot of charm and laughs in and around a 1934 Budapest Parfumerie where this story is set. The doors swing open, and we are magically swept into its delicious interior, where an assortment of the best and the most talented group of sales clerks there is, prepare themselves for a busy Christmas season. The scene is lovingly set-up, and we all are holding our collective breath waiting for Laura Benanti to shine her way through that door with the feisty fun and completely lovable portrayal of Amalia. She catches our heart instantly as the new sales clerk who just can’t seem to get along with the handsome and charming Georg, played deliciously by the thoroughly wonderful Zachary Levi (NYCC’s Sunday in the Park with George).
It couldn’t be more clear, even as we watch them bicker and fume. These two love birds are most definitely a match born in rivalry heaven, a set-up so obvious that even the other sales clerk, played adoringly by Michael McGrath (PMP’s The Honeymooners) wisely sees it, but knows not to point it out, as they would never believe or admit to it if asked. To no one’s real surprise, they are made for one another, and furthermore, they are, deliciously unbeknownst to one another, writing love letters to each other through a lonely hearts club. It’s straight out of Nora Ephron’s 1998 film, You Got Mail (or should I say that in reverse- being that Ephron based her movie on this musical and the original Miklos Laszlo’s 1937 play Parfumerie) and in its recording here at Studio 54, our pleasure is as perfect as one could muster. It’s no wonder Benanti says she put other work off or on hold for this opportunity. She is tailor-made for this part. Her voice is sublime, and ever since seeing her in Women on the Vergeperforming that crazy perfect song ‘Model Behavior’ killing it for all to see, and after winning a Tony Award for playing Louise in Gypsy opposite Patti LuPone and Boyd Gaines, it was only a matter of time before this perfect lead role made its way to her. So here she is boys, here comes Laura. Simply put, she is pitch perfection and gorgeously funny at every moment and delightfully sung note.
Seated right there, next to Benanti is the absolute stunner of a Broadway star, Jane Krakowski, who sadly hadn’t appeared on a Broadway stage since her spectacular Tony-winning, show-stopping entrance and exit performing ‘Call From the Vatican’ in 2003’s Roundabout revival of Nine. She is as perfect as one can be in this wonderfully fun tasty part, as shop clerk Ilona. It seems to have been crafted just for her. It’s hilariously sassy and sexy, and the choreography that she performs is jaw-droppingly awesome. Everything about it is tailor-made to display Krakowski’s long legs, her sexy….well, everything, her brilliant comic timing, and her amazing voice, especially in the delicious executed number, ‘A Trip to the Library’ and the incredible orchestrated ‘Ilona‘ with the magnificently talented Gavin Creel (Broadway’s Hello, Dolly!).
Surrounding these two perfect Broadway ladies, directed by Scott Ellis, is an impeccable supporting cast of pros. There isn’t a sour note in the lot. I particularly loved Nicholas Barasch (NYCC Encores’ Big River) as Arpad, who’s wide-eyed innocence and love of the shop, reflected back my own wide-eyed self and my love of this show. It’s a beautifully crafted and written show, a bit old fashioned, but with some surprisingly modern twists and turns. The show reminds us of what it is like to fall in love, but beyond that, it reminds me of the beginning of my love affair with theatre in general. So thank you, She Loves Me, I couldn’t be more grateful to have this reunion with this production on BroadwayHD and this show.
Laura Benanti and Jane Krakowski in She Loves Me streaming on BroadwayHD. Produced by Roundabout Theater Company. Photo by Joan Marcus.