Love is in the air, and written down on paper — yes, paper, not text messages or Tinder swipes — at Studio 54, where a lively revival of She Loves Me is likely to charm lovers of traditional musicals and rom-coms alike.
The production, in its first Broadway return in more than 20 years as part of Roundabout Theatre Company’s 50th anniversary season, is based on the Hungarian play Parfumerie, which also served as inspiration for the 1940 James Stewart-Margaret Sullivan film The Shop Around the Corner and 1949’s In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson. It also reappeared as another little movie you might have heard of: Nora Ephron’s 1998 classic You’ve Got Mail, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
She Loves Me centers on the clerks at a parfumerie in 1930s Budapest, including Georg Nowack (Chuck’s Zachary Levi, well cast and endearing in his second turn on Broadway) and Amalia Balash (Tony winner Laura Benanti). The pair butt heads in person, but it’s the kind of antagonism that stems from attraction — they’re both writing letters to an anonymous pen pal, unaware the “Dear Friend” they’re falling for is the same person they’re bickering at work with each day.
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Theirs isn’t the only love connection happening at this little store. Jane Krakowski, back on Broadway for the first time since 2003’s Nine, stars as fellow shop employee Ilona Ritter, who is romanced by another coworker, Steven Kodaly (Hair‘s Gavin Creel, having fun as a mustachioed lothario). Krakowski’s comedic timing, impeccable on 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, is put to great use here — as is her flexibility: during one song, Creel pulls her across the floor in an impressive full split.
Levi and Benanti make a winning pair, even if their characters don’t realize it until long after everyone else does. Her operatic voice soars in Amalia’s most emotional moments, bringing depth to the character’s naïveté and yearning for love, when she’s wondering about her love interest in “Will He Like Me?,” awaiting their starcrossed meeting, and, later, giddy over a certain someone bringing her vanilla ice cream. Levi’s songs require less vocal theatrics but he manages them well, cranking up the charm throughout but most winningly in the show’s title number, which has him bounding across the stage, jumping on benches, and cartwheeling with joy.
With lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock — the duo behind Fiddler on the Roof, which also had a stunning revival open at the end of last year — plus a book by Joe Masteroff, She Loves Me has an impressive musical pedigree. But the songs themselves aren’t earworms and some are a bit dated (one centers on convincing a larger woman to buy a box that can stop her from eating candy). Other plot moments that initially seemed strange or ill-fitting, however, became funny and brought heavy applause from the crowd by the time they ended, like a song about Christmas shopping and a hilarious turn from Peter Bartlet (Something Rotten!) as a beleaguered head waiter trying to maintain his café’s “Romantic Atmosphere.” The choreography by Warren Carlyle is snappy and fun, and David Rockwell’s set design is colorful and inventive, with the storefront opening up like a dollhouse, or a music box, to show the shop inside.
She Loves Me is like many other romantic comedies — predictable and sometimes silly, but sweet and funny enough that you won’t mind traveling (while singing and dancing, in this case) to an ending you see coming from a million miles away. B