NEW YORK — SHE LOVES ME. Musical comedy revival by Roundabout Theatre Company. At Criterion Center Stage Right.
BROADWAY musical revivals too often concentrate on the smash hits of the past, usually augmented either by the original stars (Yul Brynner in "The King and I") or film or television stars ("My Fair Lady" with Richard Chamberlain). The less popular shows, which are frequently more deserving of revival and reappraisal, tend to be overlooked.
Fortunately, however, the Roundabout has dusted off, polished up, and is now presenting a delightful and winning production of one of these, "She Loves Me." If the show's subtle charms are still an good indication of why it never reached spectacular success, this revival clarifies why the show has long been a favorite of musical-comedy lovers.
"She Loves Me" originally opened on Broadway 30 years ago, coming between "Fiorello" and "Fiddler on the Roof," the two mega-successes of its creators, Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Jerry Bock (music). The book is by Joe Masteroff ("Cabaret"), and the original production was directed by Hal Prince, but despite this impressive talent the musical had only a respectable run (302 performances).
Based on a Hungarian play from the 1930s, the story has also been told in two films, "The Shop Around the Corner" and "In the Good Old Summertime." It tells the story of two salesclerks in a Budapest perfume store, George (Boyd Gaines) and Amalia (Judy Kuhn), who squabble on the job but, who, unbeknownst to each other, are conducting a love affair through the mail.
When these literary paramours finally arrange a meeting, George becomes aware of the situation and leaves Amalia without informing her of his true identity. The romantic entanglements that ensue are complicated, but, needless to say, love triumphs.
The charm of the piece lies less with the gimmicky plot than with the warmth of the characters, who are beautifully realized by the ensemble cast.
Boyd Gaines brings a heretofore untapped charm to the role of George and in such numbers as the title song displays a genuine flair for physical comedy. Judy Kuhn is appealing as Amalia and delivers such songs as "Will He Like Me?" and "Vanilla Ice Cream" with a strong measure of plaintive emotion. Lee Wilkof, Brad Kane, and Sally Mayes provide plenty of laughs as the fellow shop workers, and Louis Zorich is moving as the store owner trying to cope with news of his wife's infidelity. Howard McGillin, in the role that won Jack Cassidy a Tony Award, brings a humorous malevolence to his role as a swinish Lothario. And Jonathan Freeman is a standout as an unctuous headwaiter.
Bock and Harnick's tuneful score didn't produce any standards, but it is remarkably consistent in its quality. Masteroff's book keeps things moving along sprightly.
Scott Ellis, an actor who is forging an excellent career as a director of musical revivals, maintains a firm grasp on the subtle aspects of the work, and choreographer Rob Marshall provides comically knockabout staging when needed, particularly in the riotous "Twelve Days to Christmas" and "Romantic Atmosphere" numbers.
"She Loves Me" evokes longing for a bygone era, both in its milieu and in its nearly lost style of musical theater. The Roundabout production makes for an effortless time machine to get us there.