Corrections or additions?
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
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
– 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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