Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi in She Loves Me
I first saw She Loves Me about thirty years ago in a small theater in Los Angeles and fell in love. It was funny, old-fashioned, and romantic -- a little jewel box of a musical. The music was beautiful with songs that were hard to get out of your head. I bought the CD and listened to it endlessly. I later saw a bigger production at the Music Center in Los Angeles and once again was in heaven. But I have to say that the production I saw in New York City last weekend was rapturous. Joy just emanates from the stage. It's the kind of joy that reminds you of why musicals exist -- to take us away from the irritations of the modern world and transport us to a simpler time. This show is filled with nostalgia. The cast is perfection and features Jane Krakowski as Ilona, one of the employees at a parfumerie shop in 1930's Budapest. She is divine in the role. The set is exquisite, like a box of chocolates. If you are in New York anytime soon and love musicals, be sure to see this one. You won't be disappointed.
You might well ask: what is She Loves Me? It opened on Broadway in 1963 and starred Barbara Cook. That casting makes a lot of sense since the role of Amalia Balash is a dream role for any soprano and Barbara Cook must have been dazzling. Laura Benanti plays the role in the current production and she is excellent. The story is about a pair of feuding co-workers in a Budapest parfumerie who don't realize they have been writing anonymous love letters to each other as part of a Lonely Hearts Society. Endless comedy ensues from this misunderstanding. Each morning George Nowack, Amalia, Ilona Ritter and the other employees who work for Mr. Maraczek at the Parfumerie open the shop and greet their customers. As they go about their work day, their personal stories unfold (in song, of course) and we learn that Ilona is having an affair with the playboy Steven Kodaly, Amalia and George constantly bicker, Mr. Maraczek is unhappy in his marriage and is taking it out on George, and the young delivery boy Arpad wants nothing so badly as to be treated like a grown-up and hired as a salesman. The tension builds as Amalia and George continue to write love letters to each other, unknowingly, and arrange a meeting. The music is by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and the show is considered one of the most charming love stories in Broadway history.
If all this sounds familiar that's because She Loves Me is the third adaptation of the play Parfumerie by the Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. There was a 1940 James Stewart-Margaret Sullivan movie The Shop Around the Corner and later a 1949 Judy Garland-Van Johnson musical version In the Good Old Summertime. It surfaced again in 1998 as the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan film You've Got Mail. Add some enchanting music, gorgeous costumes, an exquisite old world setting, and humor that will remind you of the old Hollywood screwball comedies and you will get an idea of what this is all about.
If you don't get a chance to see the Broadway musical, buy the music. It has so much charm it will knock your socks off. And you will never think of "vanilla ice cream" the same way again. It is one of the most delightful songs. Watch as Laura Benanti hits that high note!
I would love to know: have you seen She Loves Me and are you a fan?