I suppose there are those who don't like the nigh-perfectly crafted musical She Loves Me — curmudgeons and dog haters, maybe — but over the past five decades this delectable waltz-time variation on the age-old theme of how opposites attract has been deservedly resurrected from its original status as a 1963 Broadway flop and elevated to a level of enduring affection. The only thing wrong with She Loves Me is that it's not seen often enough. In the late 1990s, the Rep mounted a splendid production, as did Stages St. Louis a decade ago. But these occasional revivals are too few and far between. So the headline here is that She Loves Me is on view again, if ever so briefly, in a genial and altogether feel-good staging by Insight Theatre Company.
Set in an idyllic pastel world in Central Europe in the 1930s, She Loves Me occurs mostly at Maraczek's Parfumerie, a bustling boutique that also sells the occasional music box. As the house lights dim and the overture begins, it's as if the Heagney Theatre orchestra pit is itself a music box that has just been opened; bountiful lush melodies escape into the air. From the moment the seven-piece orchestra (under the assured direction of Ross Bell) begins to play, we know we are in capable hands.
Now a young cyclist rides his bicycle across the stage. This is Arpad (Colton Pometta), Maraczek's appealingly ambitious delivery boy. Arpad is soon joined by four salesclerks. Together this sprightly quintet sings the carefree "Good Morning, Good Day," whose staging has been polished to a fare-thee-well by director Edward Coffield and choreographer Michael Baxter. My guess is that the company spent more time rehearsing this opening number than any other scene or song; it is as crisp as a freshly starched trouser crease. These opening minutes are pivotal: Many of the key characters are introduced, and the evening's gracefully exuberant tone is clearly established.
Drawn from the same source material that was used in the 1940 Ernst Lubitsch movie The Shop Around the Corner (and later reworked by Nora Ephron for 1998's You've Got Mail), She Loves Me principally concerns the bickering between Amalia Balash (Katy Tibbetts), the newest addition to Maraczek's staff, and her stern young supervisor, Georg Nowack (Martin Fox). Amalia could never be attracted to Georg. Her love life is restricted to writing romantic letters to an unmet, unseen "dear friend." It doesn't take long for the audience to figure out that Amalia and Georg are the self-same "dear friends" of their letters. But such felicitous coincidences are what musical comedy is all about, and Tibbetts and Fox serve it well. Watch for the glee in her sparkling eyes as she reaches for the money note at the end of "Vanilla Ice Cream" and knows that she's nailed it. It's not so easy to watch Fox's eyes as he romps through the infectious title song. He's too busy doing cartwheels that seem spontaneously apt for a man who knows that the girl he loves hasn't yet figured out that she loves him.
If just about everyone in the cast has a moment in which to shine, that's because the show's creators — book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick — have been so generous in distributing this trove of material, all of it constructed with a gemlike flawlessness. Take a moment to listen to the precision of Harnick's lyrics. Every rhyme is in its place. Though they never call attention to themselves, the rhymes carry the action forward as if on a magic carpet.
At the same time, it should be noted that magic carpets don't fly of their own accord. Because She Loves Me is so laid-back (it is the anti-Hello, Dolly!), this is a tough show to pull off. Everyone at Insight has worked like Trojans to acquire a sense of zestful ease, which is perhaps best exemplified in two impromptu kisses. Early in Act One, Mr. Maraczek enjoys a brief exchange outside his shop with two potential customers. Before departing, the two women lean in and ever so lightly kiss him on his cheeks. He is charmed; so are we. Don't be surprised if by evening's end you too feel as if you have been bussed on the cheek — not by an inanimate musical comedy, but rather by a dear friend.
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