Music: Jerry Bock
Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
In 1963 a year before their magnum opus Fiddler on the Roof, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and composer Jerry Bock collaborated on this musical adaptation of Miklos Laszlo’s play Parfumerie. While the show itself is not well remembered, many will be familiar with the plot which has been adapted both as The Shop Around the Corner starring James Stewart and the more recently You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks.
Set in 1930s Budapest, the story revolves around the lives of the employees of Maraczek’s Parfumerie and specifically Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash who cannot stand each other in person but unknowingly begin corresponding as pen pals when they meet anonymously through a lonely hearts ad.
She Loves Me has an unusual structure for a show of its vintage. The plot is linear but the music and lyrics defy categorizing. This is unmistakably a Broadway musical and yet there are no big production numbers, while hints of operetta and European classical music including the works of Liszt add richness to the score and clearly identify the location of the story (several violin solos also foreshadow Fiddler on the Roof). However, if this all makes She Loves Me sound a little dry and highbrow – fear not! This is a simply stunning score, impeccably produced and performed and 100% indispensable for every musicals fan.
The sleeve notes describe this show as “small in stature but rich in detail” and a more succinct and accurate description is hard to come up with. Strangely none of the songs have a strong musical hook meaning that one does not come away humming the tunes after the first listening – a kiss of death for most musical soundtracks. However, what does take one back to this CD are the characters – all very clearly defined and totally captivating. And returning to spend more time with these people then allows Bock’s beautiful tunes begin to insidiously take seed in your head. This magic is as much a credit to Harnick’s witty lyrics as it is to the fantastic cast that Roundabout Theatre Company has assembled – all of whom are given a chance to shine from a score that generously gives standout numbers to every main character.
The ever-reliable Laura Benanti plays Amalia, balancing wit and warmth with her beautiful soprano with several standout numbers including the plaintive Dear Friend. Zachary Levi brings slightly more traditional Broadway vocals to Georg but is equally impressive as shown in the title song and Tonight at Eight both of which are about as mainstream as this score gets. The wonderful Jane Krakowski has great fun in the role of Ilona and is spellbinding as she tells the tale of her Trip to the Library, Byron Jennings as Mr Maraczek dances his way through Days Gone By and Nicholas Barasch as Arpad stops the show with Try Me. Also a very special mention to Peter Bartlett who demonstrates how to make a relatively small character utterly memorable with his amusing A Romantic Atmosphere. Every character leaves a truly lasting impression and many of the songs spin enchanting stories.
Forget that you have never heard of this show that has such a bland title – this new recording is true delight and unearths a treasure that should never have been buried in the first place.