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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 10,

2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drama Review ‘She Loves Me’

The year was 1963 and the lovers of Broadway show tunes were singing

and listening to the title song from "Hello Dolly," and "People" from

"Funny Girl," the year’s biggest musical hits. But there was another

wonderful song – "Ice Cream" – that many people loved but few had the

technique to sing. It was from the less popular, but equally praised,

musical "She Loves Me," and sung in the show by lyric soprano Barbara

Cook, who subsequently made it her signature song. It’s too bad that

more attention was not paid to "She Loves Me," the show that one

critic rightly described as "a bonbon of a musical."

The bonbon is back, if not for the first time since its premiere 41

years ago. But this time it has been aged to perfection and it brims

with old world charm and melody in the Paper Mill Playhouse production

under the ebullient direction of James Brennan.

Totally abandoning the cliches of standard musical comedy writing,

composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick, already the

recipients of the Pulitzer Prize in drama for "Fiorello," collaborated

with librettist Joe Masteroff on what many consider the first chamber

musical comedy. If Bock and Harnick are most famously known as the

composers of "Fiddler on the Roof," "She Loves Me" has commanded a

quiet popularity in musical theater repertory.

Originally a play, "Parfumerie," by Hungarian Miklos Lazlo, it is the

story of two habitually sparring salesclerks working in the same

Budapest perfume shop during the Christmas season, who have been

anonymously courting each other, linked by a series of romantic

missives. If this seems familiar, you may recall the film "The Shop

Around The Corner" with Margaret Sullivan and James Stewart; "In the

Good Old Summertime," with Judy Garland (1949) ; and "You’ve Got

Mail," starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks (1998), all retelling the same


The musical, intimate by recent musical theater standards, is

beautifully designed (based on the original designs by Chuck Keating)

by Michael Anania to open up and reveal the interior and exterior of

Maraczek’s Parfumerie, a small cafe, and Amalia’s bedroom like a 3-D

Valentine from another era. Even the costumes designed by Gail Baldoni

reclaim the elegance of "Days Gone By."

Those of us who saw the unforgettable original cast (Cook, Daniel

Massey, Barbara Baxley, and Jack Cassidy) have our memories. But the

current cast sparkles aplenty within the abundance of musical froth

and atmospheric fragrance. As the sentimental Amalia Balash, Michele

Ragusa is so appealing and musically flawless that finding love seems

like the last thing she should worry about. Ragusa, whose beguiling

presence has graced numerous Broadway shows, projects a refreshingly

spirited attitude through her lovely arias "Will He Like Me," "Dear

Friend," and, of course, the show-stopper "Vanilla Ice Cream."

Highlighted by her hilariously dithered "Where’s My Shoe," her

performance glows even brighter than F. Mitchell Dana’s lighting


As the romantically insecure yet virile Georg, mustached George

Dvorsky is appealingly reserved, that is until his Act II encounter

with the title song, when falling in love becomes his catalyst for an

impressive display of unrestrained exhibitionism. Nancy Anderson is a

delight as Ilona, the ever so slightly loose-living saleslady with a

crush on Steven Kodaly (David Hess), the parfumerie’s suave in-house

two-timing cad.

A dead-pan turn by Paul Schoeffler, as a stuffy head waiter in a cafe

singing the hilarious "A Romantic Atmosphere," is as funny as it

deserves to be. Director Brennan, who also did the choreography, has

created a side-splitting dance parody during which the romantic

couples suddenly turn the cafe into pure bedlam. Paper Mill favorite

George S. Irving plays parfumerie owner Mr. Maraczek with appropriate

warmth and humor, giving the schmaltzy waltz "Days Gone By" its due.

"She Loves Me" contains stretches of romantic rapture and broad

moments of hilarity, particularly the "Twelve Days of Christmas," as

sung with ever increasing speed and anxiety by the carolers, shoppers,

and clerks. Few shows have balanced this as well. Thanks to Brennan,

"She Loves Me" reaffirms its place among the most cherished of

American musicals.

– Simon Saltzman

She Loves Me, Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, through

Sunday, December 5. $31 to $68. 973-376-4343.

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