The tremendous revival of “She Loves Me,” now open at Studio 54, left visions of sugarplums dancing in my head and dreams of vanilla ice cream.
The candy fantasies, let’s chalk up to Roundabout’s cartoonish art nouveau sets, which recreate the streets of Budapest in cheery rainbow hues. The ice cream? That was all Laura Benanti, who, as a lonely salesgirl, cries despairingly into her dessert while singing one of the more delicious confections from the classic rom-com.
Miklos Laszlo’s 1937 play “Parfumerie” has been revisited regularly, in films from “The Shop Around the Corner” to “You’ve Got Mail.” It also inspired this 1963 musical by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, the songwriting team behind “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“She Loves Me” saw its first-ever revival in 1993, directed by Scott Ellis. Ellis takes a victory lap guiding this delicious production.
Amalia (Benanti) and Georg (Zachary Levi) make a connection through a lonely hearts column, penning witty letters to each other. When they meet in person—without any awareness of their history—each thinks the other is oafish and ill-mannered.
Amalia comes into Maraczek’s Parfumerie, where Georg works, looking for a job. He’s dismissive. In minutes, she inadvertently tips a bet between Georg and the store owner in the owner’s favor, getting herself hired but leaving Georg to think she’s manipulative and untrustworthy. The course of true love is never smooth, eh?
Lonely Amalia is practical but dreamy, and never far from her copy of “Anna Karenina.” Benanti, the “Gypsy” Tony winner, brings an operatic quality to the role, wrenching emotion from songs such as “Dear Friend.” As with her co-stars, there’s a winking and self-conscious quality to her performance.
Levi, as the shop’s senior employee, has stepped up his game since his nice debut a few seasons back in “First Date.” His Georg is a solid fellow who wants to make everyone happy, especially the shop’s namesake boss (Roundabout vet Byron Jennings).
Levi seems to be having fun, and his performance is natural and comfortable. He also proves more agile than first appearances might suggest.
Jane Krakowski, of NBC’s “30 Rock,” and Gavin Creel, the Broadway favorite (“Hair”), are the fellow salespeople at Maraczek’s, “supporting” players, though such designation hardly does them justice. Krakowski’s Ilona falls for guys anyone else could tell are bad news. Creel, as Steven Kodaly, is the bad news—the cheesy mustache is a giveaway.
While the two leads are obligated to be sweet and winsome, Krakowski and Creel have the off-color and flirtatious roles. Creel is fantastically smarmy. Krakowski shines as a none-too-bright baby doll, whose eyes are finally opened by, indeed, an optometrist.
The always-appreciated Michael McGrath is here as an easygoing salesman who knows he’ll never be top dog. “Perspective,” which has him singing while tossing gift boxes into a crate, must have required an enormous amount of rehearsal.
Jennings is likable as the shop owner. Nicholas Barasch (“Drood”) is swell as a greenhorn delivery boy eager for Mr. Maraczek’s approval. Soap opera vet Peter Bartlett has an over-the-top turn as an affected headwaiter intent on preserving the romantic atmosphere at the cafe where Amalia and Georg plan their face-to-face meeting.
“She Loves Me” surprises with the occasional darker moment, and a take on adult love that’s more sophisticated than one might expect in a romantic comedy that hinges on a joke about disguised identities. The payoff is more delicate than over-the-top.
What an exciting season for Roundabout—first “Noises Off,” now this. “She Loves Me” is pure theater: colorful sets and costumes, surprising acrobatics, memorable songs and fine performances. Musical comedy this sweet deserves an audience, and its own Ben & Jerry’s flavor.
“She Loves Me,” on sale through June 12 at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St. Tickets: $52-$147. Call 212-719-1300.