Saturday, June 25, 2016

They're In Love But Don't Know It - Or Do They?

It's hard for a musical to survive on Broadway these days Very hard.
Huge costs and the public's appetite for surefire, blockbuster hits with [sometimes] big stars has pushed musicals into a formulaic near-death cycle that demands bigger, flashier, louder productions gushing with special effects and over-the-top moments.
Have you noticed? It can all become very Disneyesque.
So, many of the musicals that we've already reviewed here have closed, including quite a few that we've loved.
Now, we hear that both Bright Star and Shuffle Along (a real shocker, here) will be closing soon. Of course, American Psycho has already closed. Something Rotten has been around for more than a year and continues a healthy run. And, though it also had a nice run, Finding Neverland has closed.
Well, at least She Loves Me will be with us through July 10 and that's an extended run (and good news!) from the venerable Roundabout Theater Company, now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
She Loves Me boasts a book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and music by Jerry Bock.
The musical is the third adaptation of the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklós László, following the 1940 James Stewart-Margaret Sullavan film The Shop Around the Corner and the 1949 Judy Garland-Van Johnson musical version In the Good Old Summertime. It would surface yet again in 1998 as the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan feature You've Got Mail. 
The plot revolves around Budapest shop employees Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash who, despite being consistently at odds with each other at work, are unaware that each is the other's secret pen pal met through lonely-hearts ads.
The show premiered on Broadway in 1963, and subsequently had productions in the West End in 1964 and award-winning revivals on each side of the Atlantic in the 1990s, as well as regional productions.
So, yes you may be familiar with the story of She Loves Me but here's the deal: This is that rarity of rarities -- an honest-to-goodness strong, book-driven musical. There are no special effects, no wildly theatrical elements, no chorus lines and mega moments in She Loves Me. Instead, we're treated to delightfully romantic narrative, three-dimensional characters and a genuine Broadway score performed by totally top-notch cast including Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Jane Krakowski, Gavin Creel, Byron Jennings, Tom McGowan, Peter Bartlett and Nicholas Barasch. There is real character development in this musical story that moves along with all the smoothness and panache of its gorgeous, evocative set which garnered a Tony award for designer David Rockwell. 
No doubt you're familiar with Jane Krakowski and she gives a milestone performance here in a comedic featured role that will long be remembered. And her take on a vivid character is matched by Gavin Kreel who plays the part of the ultimate cad, milking every drop out of his performance and then some. 
But the leads (Benanti and Levi) are nothing less than irrepressibly engaging as opposites who alternately attract and repel -- until they fall hopelessly in love. Levi is one minute exasperating and the next positively charming as the tightly-wound store clerk who's underappreciated at every turn. And, his delivery of the title song is a tour de force. For her part, Benanti is irresistible in a role that calls for the full range of her talents -- both as a song stylist and an actress. When she sings Vanilla Ice Cream, you'll want to shout with delight at the joy of something so simple. 
Benanti is introduced in a scene that involves a music box which is meant to double as a candy container. But the rather ordinary box with its melodic attraction is really a jewel box and it's somewhat of a metaphor for the musical itself. It's a seemingly ordinary boy-meets-girl show that, with its novel approach and unexpected developments actually turns out to be an intricate jewel box.
Ultimately, the real secret of She Loves Me is that it holds back -- building, and building and building as expectations increase and tensions tingle until all its delicious delights burst forth.
In a word, this show is exquisite!

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