NEW YORK (AP) — The charming, irresistible musical "She Loves Me" opens with a group of people arriving for work one midsummer day and dreaming of playing hooky. Thank goodness they don't.
An astounding cast, a nifty story and memorable songs turn this revival into a celebration of classic musical construction. It's worth skipping work to see.
Director Scott Ellis, who helmed a revival in 1993, does so again as part of the Roundabout Theatre Company's 50th anniversary celebration. His last version actually ran longer than the 1963 original and helped repopularize it.
This time he's got the radiant Laura Benanti and he's surrounded her with some of Broadway's best — Gavin Creel, Byron Jennings, Michael McGrath, Jane Krakowski and Peter Bartlett. Zachary Levi, known for TV's "Chuck," proves a gifted leading man.
The story, set in the 1930s, focuses on two ever-quarreling employees of a perfume shop in a European city. At work, Georg and Amalia detest each other, yet they are anonymous pen pals, writing lonely-hearts letters to each other.
If it sounds familiar, it is: The story has been adapted into the films "The Shop Around the Corner" with James Stewart and "You've Got Mail" with Tom Hanks. It's all based on a play by Miklos Laszlo's "Parfumerie," which Joe Masteroff has adapted. The revival opened Thursday at Roundabout's Studio 54 theater.
Benanti charms from the moment she steps onstage but never coasts even though the role is firmly in her wheelhouse. She's genuinely buffeted by emotions that swing from disgust to fondness, and she is vocally in a league of her own, flawlessly knocking back the near-operatic demands of the part.
Levi turns out to be no slouch either. The part requires a singer who can act and has comedic chops, and Levi nails it. He has the unenviable task of immediately following Benanti's triumphant, bed-bouncing "Vanilla Ice Cream" with the title song and yet he owns the stage as a heel-clicking giddy man suddenly in love. He even does a cartwheel.
In a sign of how comfortable Levi is, during one preview, a large part of the shop set came out more noisily than intended and Levi, without a sweat, improvised to a co-star, "See to it that counter is looked at." That's smooth.
The show is filled with little smart moments, from a member of the orchestra throwing fake snow in the audience to signal winter to two characters recreating the famous bow scene from "Titanic."
Warren Carlyle did the choreography, which is small but intense, as when three male clerks expertly swivel customers on stools. David Rockwell's dollhouse set evokes old European elegance.
Creel plays a cane-twirling Lothario with obvious gusto, Bartlett plays a fussy restaurant owner to perfection, and Krakowski was born to be the daffy but endearing Ilona, who does the splits during a hectic rumba and sings a marvelous "A Trip to the Library." Watching her count out the syllables in "op-tom-e-trist" is priceless.
There are some small, sour notes. The song "Twelve Days to Christmas" — with a choir that makes sarcastic comments about shopping — seems out of place with the sweetness and some of the duets aren't always synched perfectly. But, overall, this is a show that, as one character says, gets "the tilt of our hats right." Come be swept away.
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