So, She Loves Me is an Actual Thing Again and it is Delightful

I’m totally chill if you don’t like She Loves Me, but if that is really the case, we can’t be friends and I don't trust your judgement.

I mean every word.

Because She Loves Me is such a old-fashioned, charming musical that Broadway should want to revive it as often as possible and not think twice about doing so. As Amalia and Georg argue and tiff, you root for them to cut the bullshit and capture the passionate bond they have in their letter-writing (She Loves Me is like "You’ve Got Mail," just set in a Parfumerie in 1930s Budapest). As the bevy of likable supporting characters (minus one person) establish who they are and what they want, you hope they acquire what they are looking for, whether it be job security (Sipos), a promotion (Arpad) or romance (Ilona).

And the current revival of She Loves Me, which opened last week at Studio 54, is top-to-bottom stunning as life is injected into the material and Scott Ellis directs the show with polish and pizzazz. Which isn’t at all surprising considering (1) he directed the last Broadway revival (2) he’s a pretty reliable director in his own right and knows a thing or twelve about crafting revivals (The Mystery of Edwin Drood and You Can’t Take It With You, most notably) and (3) THIS CAST WOULD BRING IT.

The thing with Laura Benanti is…she’s almost overqualified to star in anything by this point. Not just because her vocal range has 723 octaves (she’s probably developed more in the time you have been reading this), but she, literally, has star presence for miles. You could sense her pending slayage before she even takes the stage…or arrives at the theatre, for that matter.

Her Amalia, lovelorn and occasionally plucky, threatens to turn into “The Laura Benanti Show” as her pitch-perfect voice massages your ears and reverberates to, like, China. But leave it to the professional to churn our a world-class, relatable performance to go with her insane singing. From Amalia’s confidence and poise at the Parfumerie to her insecurity and devastation during the restaurant scene (her “Dear Friend” is a gut-punch of feelz) to her brittleness-turned-affection towards Georg, PLUS her fangurling over Vanilla Ice Cream (she is all of us when she starts SANGIN’ about ice cream with such a girlish, giddiness)...Benanti doesn’t miss a step as she knocks everything out of the park state. Just bow down to our FabuLady, as everyone should be inclined to do at this point. Like a reflex.

Where Ellis’ direction deserves its highest marks - and a credit to Ms. Benanti as well - is knowing when to turn the floor over. The ensemble nature of the show is preserved and everyone gets the opportunity to show the audience what they got. Zachary Levi is giving an all-around great performance and when he performs the title number - complete with a cartwheel, which is very important - he stops the show and makes Georg charming enough to warrant Amalia’s growing affection for him. Gavin Creel is perfectly cast and convincing as the womanizing Kodaly. His douschebaggery and smarminess is every bit a turnoff, but because he is Gavin Creel and has killer dance moves, a fantastic voice you would want to bathe in and his hotness will leave you thirsty AF (the truest story that every true’d), you forgive him anyways and don’t blame Ilona for swooning over him. Also, his FLAWLESS rendition of “Ilona?” Of course he would, such is the power of the Creel...

Speaking of Ilona, I didn’t realize how much I missed Jane Krakowski around these parts. But after seeing her go from Ilona's air-headed and desperate ways to…being slightly less air-headed, but self-empowering, Jane manages to put some distance between Ilona and her characters on "30 Rock" and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." And she can still cut a rug, to use an old-timey phrase…during the aforementioned "Ilona" number, she ChaChas and does splits with just about as much grace and poise as one can. Then again, this is the woman who melted the Eugene O’Neill stage eight times a week with her rendition of "Call From the Vatican," so bless her for returning to form.

I also adored Nicholas Barasch for making me give more fucks then ever about Arpad and his “Oh, Golly Gee” optimism. Seriously, when “Try Me” starts up - which by the way, has that always been a fantastic number and I never realized it until now? - and he drops a charisma bomb on the audience, Barasch forced me to stop and take notice of this “where did HE come from?!” portrayal. Which was fantastic for many reasons, but mostly because he helps pull the audience up and out from the dreary tone the end of Act I is overwhelmed with. Major kudos to him...all of the power house talents surrounding him (which also includes a solid Michael McGrath and Byron Jennings as Sipos and Maraczek, respectively) had She Loves Me under control, and yet he carves out a portion of the show for himself. That’s no small feat when all of his co-stars have probably been acting since Nicholas was in the womb.

One final thing before you hit up the Roundabout website for tickets…David Rockwell, who is long overdue for a Tony himself (he’s been nominated four times in the past three years), deserves a fuck-ton of awards for that OhMyGawd, GORGEOUS set design that is the Parfumerie. The pastel colors, the lavish interiors, the shelves of glass bottles, the sparkliness…take a bow David, because that set earns every bit of entrance applause (the audience I was in went nuts on first sight). ‘Perfection’ is a cliche, but that is what it it. Or, y’know, wutevs….just par for the course when you consider everything else about this revival of She Loves Me. The next one, whenever that may be, will have PUH-LEN-TEE to answer to.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus


AF said...

Wow, such an entusiastic review! I have no idea how much I envy you: I live in Europe and I already flew to NY last year for "On the XX Century", so I can't afford to come again to see "She Loves Me" as well. (By the way, the character is called Ilona, not Llona!)

AF said...

(Of course I meant "you have no idea", not "I have no idea"... how ironic that I fell victim of typos as well)

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