This has been our year of living Bock-Harnickly.
In October, the York Theatre Company presented “Rothschild & Sons,” a revised take on composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick’s 1970 “The Rothschilds,” a dull tale about the founding of the banking dynasty. In December came Bartlett Sher’s triumphant revival of their masterwork, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Now, as the busy spring season kicks off, we get a Broadway revival of their other classic, “She Loves Me.”
Could we be Bock-Harnicked out?
It’s not impossible. “She Loves Me,” with a book by Joe Masteroff, is set in a perfume shop, and it’s an airy wisp of a show. It’s one of the many adaptations of the 1936 Hungarian play “Parfumerie,” which also brought us “The Shop Around the Corner” and “You’ve Got Mail.” You know the drill: Lonely-hearts pen pals fight in real life, end up together. There is nothing either substantial or unexpected to any part of the story. Unlike Masteroff’s other musical, “Cabaret,” this is a candy-colored, happy-go-lucky interwar Mitteleuropa, in which a serial adulterer is a sort of comic relief and a suicide attempt is merely a jokey inconvenience.
It also has a score as ephemeral as its plot. It’s pleasant, it’s bouncy, it’s entirely forgettable. Perhaps the title of its best-known song says it all: “Vanilla Ice Cream.”
And yet. The original Broadway production of “She Loves Me,” in 1963 and ’64, ran for a healthy nine months. Its first revival, in 1993 and ’94, ran for a year — and became Roundabout’s first Broadway musical. And now that same company, as part of its 50th anniversary season, has brought it back to Studio 54, in a new production directed once again by Scott Ellis.
And it works — thanks to a truly terrific cast.
Laura Benanti gets top billing and the final bow, but the star of this show is Zachary Levi, as the well-meaning shop manager Georg. Levi is best known as Chuck on the TV series “Chuck,” but he showed some real musical-theater chops in his previous outing, the otherwise amateurish musical “First Date” a few seasons ago. Here, he finally has a chance to shine, and he seizes it. He’s charming, he’s funny, he can sing and he can dance.
Benanti is, as ever, a perfect ingénue, pretty and winsome, with a massive, gorgeous voice. She does comedy, she does romance, she does dance numbers, and she does them all fabulously. This, of course, is no surprise.
Neither are the rest of the pitch-perfect performances. Gavin Creel is suave and saucy as a womanizing clerk in the shop, and Michael McGrath is perfectly nebbishy as the devoted sad sack who works there, too. Jane Krakowski rounds out the floor staff, in love with but often ignore by Creel’s heel, with her usual ditzy-sexpot charm.
Byron Jennings keeps a twinkle in his debonair eye as the shop’s prosperous and sometimes imperious owner; Peter Bartlett mugs his way through what might have been a stock role as a pompous but befuddled headwaiter; and even Nicholas Barasch, a high-school senior at the Professional Children’s School, brings a fresh-faced enthusiasm to his role as the shop’s errand boy with ambitions.
Warren Carlyle has done some amazing choreography — the tap dancing in “After Midnight” was his, and won him a Tony, as were those amazing kids in “A Christmas Carol” — but his work here, like the play itself, is pleasantly forgettable. Ellis, too, has pulled together this spectacular cast but provides no memorable directorial flourishes.
But then there’s David Rockwell, the set designer, who has created a gorgeous, romantic, pastel-hued nonspecific European city. The perfume shop sits in the middle of, opening and closing up like a giant dollhouse. It’s lovely and delightful and probably, with its pale yellows and pinks and greens, looks mostly like a candy shop — the perfect setting for this sugary confection of a show.
Jesse Oxfeld has written about theater for the New York Observer and Entertainment Weekly. Twitter @joxfeld
Can This Be Too Much Bock and Harnick for Our Own Good?