In a society where Donald Trump can encourage supporters to punch out protesters and then deny responsibility for doing so, charm is not a prominent commodity. If some need a handy definition, it’s kicking up its heels in Scott Ellis’s perfect revival of the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick-Joe Masteroff musical She Loves Me, at Roundabout’s Studio 54.
This 1963 stage adaptation of Milks Laszlo’s 1937’s play Perfumeries is not the first time it’s been transferred. It was filmed at MGM as The Shop Around the Corner and In the Good Old Summertime. More recently it emerged as You’ve Got Mail. Roundabout revived it in 1993, but the current dusting off stands up squarely beside its predecessors.
The story follows pen pals Georg Nowack (Zachary Levi) and Amalia Balash (Laura Benanti) who are unaware of their epistolary relationship when she looks for a job at the fancy store where Georg is chief clerk. They instantly dislike each other. They don’t meet cute.
As part of a staff headed by Mr. Maraczek (Byron Jennings), who owns and lends his name to the store, and including playboy Stephen Kodaly (Gavin Creel), temptress Ilona Ritter (Jane Krakowski), conciliator Ladislav Sipos (Michael McGrath) and delivery boy Arpad Laszlo (Nicholas Barasch), Georg and Amalia continually rub each other the wrong way.
Until they don’t — as the audience is well-convinced will happen from the start. The thawing out comes as the letter-writers Georg and Amalia plan to meet at the posh Café Imperiale, presided over by fussy Headwaiter (Peter Bartlett) and dance-up-a-storm Busboy (Michael Fatica). Plans go awry when Georg learns that Amalia is Amalia. She, however, believes her inamorata merely failed to materialize.
As their lives and the lives of the other parfumerie workers unfold on David Rockwell’s pop-up of an utterly charming set, they sing a score in which no song isn’t thoroughly romantic, delightful, amusing and/or affecting. (Larry Hochman’s lush arrangements as conducted with delicacy and strength by the venerable Paul Gemignani, with the orchestra divided in two and housed in boxes adjacent to the stage. During the overture — remember when every musical had one? — the soloists are thoughtfully lighted by Donald Holder.)
A chief She Loves Me plus is that the songwriters made certain every one of the principals has at least one number in which to shine. A good example is when Mr. Kodaly gets to praise Miss Ritter in “Ilona” — and Krakowski gets to demonstrate her Terpsichore ability to fans who know her only from 30 Rock.
George and Amalia have a series of songs chronicling the progress of their love affair, meaning many opportunities to showcase Benanti and Levi. In Benanti’s case, this isn’t necessarily revelatory, since she’s paraded herself in the last Gypsy revival to a Tony. Her soprano rings out clearly in “Will He Like Me?” and “Ice Cream” and especially in the heart-rending first-act closer, “Dear Friend.”
Levi, though familiar to TV audiences as the title character in Chuck, is less well known to tuner fans. Still, he was one half of the couple in the short-lived 2013 Broadway musical First Date, and more than delivers on the promise he offered then with this likable, sincere Georg who even executes a cartwheel to demonstrate how energized he is by love.
An achievement of both songs and book is that it makes every character, even the calculating Kodaly, lovable. So that when they burst into song (which may be the only way to phrase it best), they’re set up for the adoring audience response that follows.
(This is a banner year for Harnick, who turns 92 at the end of April. His Fiddler on the Roof is currently back on Broadway, at the Broadway. Earlier this season, the Bock-Harnick musical The Rothschilds was presented in an extremely viable revision at the York. Bock died in 2010, and Harnick continues to deny the rumors of a rift between the longtime partners.)
With She Loves Me, Ellis, who is Roundabout’s associate artistic director and helmed the 1993 revival, too, adds more notches to his director’s belt. Last year he distinguished himself with his You Can’t Take It With You revival, which Rockwell also designed. This year he sprinkles surprises throughout the new She Loves Me proceedings. Watch for a sudden snowfall he arranges.
This isn’t to mention the unerring performances he encourages and his invitation for choreographer Warren Carlyle to provide a sexy Café Imperiale number that might recalls the Hernando’s Hideaway routine in The Pajama Game. Additional rose bouquets are tossed to costume designer Jeff Mahshie for his evocation of 1930s Budapest, and to sound designer Jon Weston and hair and wig designer David Brian Brown. So the question arises: Is there anything at all wrong with this supernal She Loves Me?
No. Although there is an observation that a lover of musicals might point out. She Loves Me, as the title happily announces, is a love story in which, as in South Pacific, the lovers clasp in the last moments. As expected, it’s replete with love songs. But — and it’s a curious “but” – all the love songs are sung by the lovers when not in each other’s presence. Therefore, there are no Amalia-Georg duets, which begs another question: Did Harnick and Bock ever write one or two that never made it into the final score? Maybe one with Amalia and Georg not together but standing at opposite sides of the stage, singing about, but not with, each other? A diehard She Loves Me lover is just asking.