Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Romance for the Ages, Tonight at Eight

Review: She Loves Me


Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi star as perfectly mismatched lovers in Roundabout's fantastically funny She Loves Me.

Winsome. Charming. Utterly enchanting. All of these words and more can be used to describe Roundabout Theatre Company's top-notch revival of She Loves Me, the most whimsical and romantic night of musical theatre currently available on Broadway. Every moment of the show has been lovingly rendered by director Scott Ellis and his pitch-perfect cast, which is headlined by Tony-winner Laura Benanti in a role tailor-made to her many and varied theatrical talents.

She Loves Me is based on the same short story that inspired the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romance You've Got Mail, and follows parfumerie clerks Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash. Constantly bickering on the job, the pair has simultaneously been falling in love via their frequent, anonymous written correspondence with one other. It is a classic romantic comedy setup that has been musicalized using a gorgeous score by Fiddler on the Roof duo Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, and although the show itself is rarely produced in New York most have likely encountered at least one of its many popular songs (such as that favorite of budding sopranos, "Vanilla Ice Cream").

The premise is uncomplicated and the outcome inevitable, but thanks to Joe Masteroff's intelligent book and Ellis' supremely sensitive direction, this refreshingly intimate musical love story has all the elements required to hold your attention for the duration of its runtime. It is clear that Ellis and his cast have an unabashed love for the material and one another, and that fondness radiates out beyond the footlights to envelope the audience in its warm embrace. By keeping the focus of the story small, She Loves Me also offers far more character development than most shows of its ilk, meaning you will come to genuinely love every one of the characters by the final ultimo.

As Georg and Amalia, Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti make for perfect romantic leads. Their chemistry is palpable and each provides a masterclass in acting a song, whether it be Levi's giddily infectious "She Loves Me" or Benanti's crystal clear and hilarious ode to the aforementioned "Ice Cream." By the time these two temperamental lovebirds realize they are perfect for each other, you are genuinely ecstatic for them, thanks to the pair's charisma, earnestness, and complete sincerity. Benanti's role in particular showcases the actress as few roles can, highlighting her impeccable comic instincts, emotional accessibility, and crystalline soprano in equal measure (and often within the same scene). It is an utter delight to have Benanti back on Broadway after a five year hiatus, and hopefully we won't have to wait another five before being graced with her talents again.

Jane Krakowski is another actress who has spent far too long away from Broadway, having left the Great White Way for the bright lights of Hollywood after her Tony-winning performance in the 2003 revival of Nine. Krakowski is simply sensational as shop attendant Ilola Ritter, skillfully combining easygoing sensuality with convincing naivety as she is constantly taken advantage of by the shop's resident ladies' man, Steven Kodaly (an immensely appealing Gavin Creel). Krakowski goes from slinky kicks and splits in the comic "Ilola" to genuine heartbreak in "I Resolve," all without missing any opportunity to make her scenes as funny as humanly possible. She and Benanti also share fantastic chemistry in their scenes together, making for believable gal pals you wish would spend more time together.

The entire cast is dressed in resplendent 1930's period garb by costumer Jeff Mahshie, which looks all the more gorgeous on David Rockwell's jewel box of a set (the first wow moment of the show is when the exterior facade of the parfumerie open up to reveal its immensely detailed interior right before your eyes). The saturated jewel tones really pop thanks to Donald Holder's lights, and the crisp sound design completes the feeling of being enveloped in the interior of a musical jewelry box.

This has been an outstanding season for musical revivals on Broadway, and She Loves Me is another knockout. A practically perfect production of an underrated show, this revival highlights everything that is splendid about Golden Age musical theatre while removing any hint of dustiness. Like all Roundabout productions, it is scheduled to play a limited engagement, so any and all interested parties should purchase their tickets as soon as possible.

7 comments:

  1. Do you think Laura Benanti is now the frontrunner to win the Tony for Best Actress In A Musical?

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    1. I look forward to dissecting all the acting races in the next month, but the short answer is "no." I think Cynthia Erivo remains the person to beat, but Benanti is a shoe-in for a nomination.

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  2. I'll be interested to see if you think Danny Burstein will finally win a Tony this year. People seem to be praying for him to win a Tony the same way people were praying for years for Leonardo DiCaprio to win an Oscar before he finally won this year.

    I actually got to meet Danny Burstein in 2007 when me and my drama club took a day trip to NYC where we went on a scavenger hunt looking for famous landmarks like 30 Rock, Trump Tower and the Russian Tea Room and then we went to see The Drowsy Chaperone.

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  3. The Tony nominations come out a week from tomorrow. When can we expect to see your full predictions of the nominations?

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    1. EEEK! I know, I know. I've actually been spending a good part of the afternoon working on them. You should see the first post (and a couple more reviews) in the next 48 hours or so.

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    2. Don't worry; I'll be patient.

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  4. I bet you're furious that this didn't even get a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album. 4 of the slots were filled as expected by The Color Purple (which ended up winning), Bright Star, Fiddler On The Roof and Waitress, but the 5th nominee was, to my huge surprise, the West End cast album of Kinky Boots.

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