The Results Are In: She Loves Me
She Loves Me is in the very top rank of great American musicals. More intimate in style than most musicals of its era, its 1963 original Broadway production ran for only 300 performances. However, She Loves Me’s visibility, popularity and reputation have increased immeasurably in the intervening years as a result of its glorious romantic music, warm and witty lyrics, sparkling dialogue and artfully constructed book. A rare and heady blend of charm, wit, beauty and emotion, She Loves Me is now widely recognized as a crown jewel of the Golden Age of the Broadway musical. How joyous it is to report that it is in safe hands and wonderful form in the blissful revival on stage at the Paper Mill Playhouse through December 5th.
The time is 1934. The setting is a perfume shop in Budapest. Amalia Balash (Michele Ragusa) and Georg Nowack (George Dvorsky) are feuding store clerks who are exchanging anonymous love letters initiated through a lonely hearts ad. Two other clerks are the slightly faded Ilona Ritter (Nancy Anderson) and amoral womanizer Steven Kodaly (pronounced Ko-dai) (David Hess) with whom Ilona is having an affair. The proprietor Maraczek (George S. Irving) has problems of his own.
Nancy Anderson, Bill Bateman, Michele Ragusa,
Bradford William Anderson, George Dvorsky
and George S. Irving
Paper Mill has assembled a top flight Broadway cast for this production. Michele Ragusa is a revelation. The rich character and comic detail in her performance make her Amalia believable and sympathetic. Her singing is delightful. She mellifluously and solidly hits all the high notes, and draws all the emotion (“Dear Friend”) and humor (“Where’s My Shoe?”) from her lyrics. Close your eyes when she sings the touching “Dear Friend” at the end of act one and you may think that the calendar has wound back to 1963, and you are listening to Barbara Cook in the original Broadway production.
George Dvorsky is solid and convincing as Georg, a socially maladroit, essentially decent seeker of companionship. He sings the role solidly throughout and totally delights us with his joyful rendition of the difficult to sing title song.
Nancy Anderson is an exceptional Ilona. Her beautifully conceived and sung rendition of the comic, yet poignant, “A Trip to the Library” puts a tear in the eye. David Hess solidly sings the role of Kodaly. However, I missed the sleazy charm and very high tenor notes which won Jack Cassidy a Tony Award for the role back in ’63.
Fabulous Broadway veteran George S. Irving is on hand to light up the stage as Maraczek. Irving never uses his out-sized stage personality to overwhelm. He uses his gift to make us pay attention to and become emotionally involved with his character. It seems that Paper Mill has had a near monopoly on the services of Mr. Irving of late, and that makes Paper Mill a very special place.
The other Maraczek employees, Sipos and Arpad, are well played by Bill Bateman and Bradford William Anderson. The engaging Bateman is an appropriately quirky bundle of comic seriousness. His Sipos gets the best lines in the ironic opening song “Good Morning, Good Day” (sung by all the shop employees), and he also gets to sing the hilarious character song “Perspective” (if you’ve forgotten how it goes, add that to the many reasons to get over to Paper Mill post haste).
Amid so many fine performances, I dare not forget to mention the marvelous work of Paul Schoeffler as the Cafe Imperiale headwaiter who tries to create “A Romantic Atmosphere.” On so many levels, his is a star performance in one scene. It is a brilliantly written role, and Schoeffler’s comic skills and high tenor elevate it to the highest level.
Director-choreographer James Brennan has successfully reproduced all the essential elements of the original with performances so rich in skill, detail and enthusiasm that it feels brand new. For what is likely the most charming of Broadway musicals, a director could do no better.
Conductor Tom Helm beautifully conducts Don Walker’s wonderful orchestrations. They were “adapted by” Frank Matosich, Jr. for the 1993 Roundabout (and Broadway revival), but as played by Helm’s 19-piece orchestra they sound as lush, romantic and humorous as ever. Ten seconds into the overture, when the gypsy violinist rises from the orchestra pit to play a solo, it is clear that She Loves Me is in safe hands. When Jerry Bock saw the show on opening day he appreciated this wonderful touch.
The complicated set which shifts and turns to accommodate various locales is attractive and clever. It was designed by Michael Anania based on a design for an earlier production.
She Loves Me is based on a 1937 Hungarian play, Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo, which has been thrice successfully adapted to the American screen (The Shop Around the Corner in 1940, In the Good Old Summertime in 1949, You’ve Got Mail in 1998).
Joe Masteroff (Cabaret) has provided an unusually sophisticated book. Both Amalia and Georg have sharp edges, each with the capacity to be nasty at one time or another. This only increases our ability to relate to them as believable individuals. Those who may surmise that so charming a musical has to be soft and gooey are in for a most pleasant surprise.
At this late date, what can one say about the great Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick score? For She Loves Me, they have written approximately two dozen songs displaying stunning wit and/or beauty in both the music and lyrics. The integration of the lyrics with the book, and their function in advancing the plot is outstanding. In this, the fourth of seven Broadway musicals which they wrote together (written just before Fiddler on the Roof), they are both at the top of their form. I haven’t even yet mentioned the incredibly beautiful “Will He Like Me?,” the operatically joyous “Vanilla Ice Cream,” or the exuberant waltz “In Days Gone By.”
The Paper Mill production of She Loves Me will be fondly remembered for many years to come. If you do not get to see it in the next five weeks, you could be one of those who regret not having seen it.
She Loves Me continues performances through December 5, 2004 at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, New Jersey 07081. Performance Schedule: Eves: Wed.-Sat. 8PM; Sun. 7:30PM (except 12/5); Matinees: Thurs. & Sun. 2PM; Sat. 2:30PM; Extra performance: Tues. 11/23-8PM; Wed. 11/24-2PM.; No performances Thurs. 11/25; Tickets: $68 - $31; box office: 973-376-4343/ online: www.papermill.org Visit BroadwayBox.com for discounts on tickets bought by November 17.
She Loves Me, book by Joe Masteroff/ Music by Jerry Bock/ Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick; direction/choreography by James Brennan
Cast (in order of appearance):
Ladislav Sipos .......... Bill Bateman
Arpad Laszio .......... Bradford William Anderson
Ilona Ritter .......... Nancy Anderson
Steven Kodaly .......... David Hess
Georg Nowack .......... George Dvorsky
Mr. Maraczek .......... George S. Irving
Customers .......... Leslie Becker, Katherine Harber, Alisa Klein,