Fathom Events' "She Loves Me": We All Scream....

Gavin Creel & Jane Krakowski in "She Loves Me"
(photo: Jane Marcus)

Joyous as it is to fall in love, it's infinitely more wondrous to fall in love again, with the same musical theater piece, some fifty years later. In any heated discussion of what comprises the best musical ever created, Gypsy and Sweeney Todd each have their champions, but She Loves Me will always be regarded as a sentimental favorite of true theater buffs. It premiered on Broadway in 1963, and has been revived several times since. This latest version, from New York's Roundabout Theatre Company, provides ample evidence for its place in musical theater history. Its Book is by Joe Masteroff, based on the Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszio, with a plot which will be familiar to film fans: 1940's The Shop around the Corner , 1949's Judy Garland flick In the Good Old Summertime , and 1998's You've Got Mail. With Music by Jerry Bock and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick (who would later collaborate on Fiddler on the Roof), it was this critic's second Broadway musical ever, and remains his personal favorite of all time. In this production, the direction and choreography are seamless, and it boasts an impeccable cast, each with her or his solo number.

The story revolves (often literally) around a parfumerie in 1930's Budapest owned by Mr. Maraczek (Byron Jennings), and his employees, the handsome but single head clerk Georg Novack (Zachary Levi), the dashing ladies' man Steven Kodaly (Gavin Creel), the lovely Ilona (Jane Krakowski), the timid Sipos (Micheal McGrath), and the youthful errand boy Arpad (Nicholas Barasch). Into this melange arrives one Amalia Balash (Laura Benanti), desperate for a job. She is hired by Mr. Maraczek, but for her and Mr. Novack it's loathe at first sight. Unbeknownst to either of them, they are secret pen pals in a lonely hearts club. They arrange by mail to meet in a discreet cafe led by a hysterical (in several senses, and a bit over-the-top) Headwaiter (Peter Bartlett), but the plans go astray, as these things often do in the first act of musicals. After some complications along the way, they finally realize their ongoing connection. It's a very sweet tale involving music boxes, chocolates, and above all vanilla ice cream, which literally breaks the ice between our predestined lovers.

In a promising move to make such theatrical goodies more available to the general public, Fathom Events has just broadcast its first HD capturing of this original cast in performance, and, if this is any indication of what other possibilities lie in our future, theatergoers should expect true wonders. This production, under Director Scott Ellis, is a winner. With Warren Carlyle as Choreographer and Paul Gemignani as Conductor, along with the creative talents of Costume Designer Jeff Mahshie, Lighting Designer Donald Holder and Sound Designer Jon Weston, it's a joy to behold as well as to hear. Special mention should be made of the exquisite revolving Scenic Design by David Rockwell, which garnered every award in sight, including the Tony Award.

Jane Krakowski, Michael McGrath, Zachart Levi, Gavin Creel & Nicholas Barasch
and the Tony-winning Set Design for "She Loves Me"
(photo: Jane Marcus) 
Who could resist such a charming and heartwarming story, lushly romantic while not too heavy on the schlag? Benanti, following in the footsteps of the original Amalia (a then-little-known Barbara Cook) makes the role her own, and Levi is her perfect match, the most moving rendition (in all senses of the term) ever. Add to this the wacky turns by Krakowski, McGrath and Barasch, and even Byron Jennings in an often-underwhelming role, and you have a really embarrassing cornucopia of riches. How delicious to hear Benanti speak of how the views of George and herself “so correspond”, Krakowsi of her book-loving suitor's “novel approach”, and learning that Arpad's last name is Laszlo (a tribute to the original playwright), and the heroine's paean to the ice cream the hero brought her. The little-known musical is no secret anymore. We all scream we love She Loves Me. So bring on the vanilla ice cream already.

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