Early in the Reprise production of “She Loves Me,” a minor character, observing hostility between the two principals, comments that harsh banter often indicates sexual attraction. As played by Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart in Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 classic, “The Shop Around the Corner,” constant quarreling suggested the inevitability of ripening romance. This version of the 1963 Broadway musical adaptation, smoothly directed by Gordon Hunt, is charming, melodic and pleasantly palatable, but leads Scott Waara and Rebecca Luker don’t click as a romantic duo; the production should be more properly named “She Likes Me.” Potentially gripping subplots are also glossed over before they can achieve maximum impact.
Set in a Budapest parfumerie during the 1930s, Joe Masteroff’s book, based on a play by Miklos Laszlo, spotlights Georg (Waara), a clerk who bickers and battles with fellow employee Amalia (Luker). What neither realize is that they’re pen pals madly in love with each other by mail.
This conflict has been foolproof through three films (“Shop”; “In the Good Old Summertime,” with Judy Garland; “You’ve Got Mail”), and it plays effectively here, largely due to Luker’s beauty, winning sincerity and superior singing. But the dramatic thrust of the main plot is interrupted too often by secondary storylines, though zany subsidiary characters are well played and colorful in their own right.
Lenny Wolpe is believably high strung and sympathetic as shop owner Mr. Maraczek, who adores his wife and wrongly suspects her of having an affair with Georg. His abuse of the innocent Georg adds an element of mystery, although the power of his subsequent suicide attempt is lessened and lopped off by a song, “Try Me.” This clever, upbeat comedy number, performed by charismatic Deven May as an ambitious clerk-to-be, removes the teeth from Maraczek’s tragedy and renders it insignificant.
As Kodaly, the oily, conceited Casanova who romances fellow worker Ilona (Kaitlin Hopkins) while sneaking around with Maraczek’s wife, Damon Kirsche is a definitive model of serpentine slickness, and he belts out “It’s Been Grand” with riveting showmanship. Hopkins’ Ilona has a boldly upfront sassiness that energizes her scenes, and Larry Cedar is personality plus as Sipos, the politically astute clerk who knows better than to make waves and says so in his pungently truthful “Perspective.” Cedar nearly pulls off the show’s big revelation — that he sent an anonymous letter to Maraczek, triggering disaster — but Waara’s reaction to this information is directed so casually it seems like an ordinary bulletin instead of a bombshell.
The Bock and Harnick score, expressively supported by Gerald Sternbach’s orchestra, is a series of sprightly numbers. Kicking off with a knockout violin solo by Liane Mautner, it features such treasures as Luker’s “I Hope He Likes Me,” “Dear Friend” and “Vanilla Ice Cream.” Waara’s “She Loves Me” is spirited and engaging. Welcome broadness is furnished by Perry Lambert as a headwaiter, and he turns “A Romantic Atmosphere” into a humorous high point.
Robert L. Smith’s use of center stage draped curtain and added tables to turn the shop into a restaurant is deftly done, and choreographer Dan Mojica brings out the best in his athletic ensemble. They succeed, along with sound designer Philip G. Allen, in making the show a musical dish that goes down easy despite too many dashes of vanilla.