With new musicals rare and hits rarer, revivals seem to be the primary lot for Broadway’s top musical talent — and revivals, happily, are in vogue. So cheers to the Roundabout for finishing its second season on Broadway and, simultaneously, launching the 1993-94 season with a charming, first-class revival of Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s 30-year-old bonbon “She Loves Me.”
This show, Bock and Harnick’s tune-up for “Fiddler on the Roof” and Hal Prince’s debut as both producer and director, was foiled by its split personality: It was an intimate chamber musical that wanted, occasionally, to be bigger.
That dichotomy is still evident in Scott Ellis’ lively mounting, which fares better in the sentimental moments than in the silly production numbers.
But this production is a triumph of casting, featuring some of the musical theater’s most accomplished — and hungry — young talents. Boyd Gaines and Judy Kuhn are perfectly matched as the shop manager and the new salesgirl who battle like Beatrice and Benedick by day and correspond like Christian and Roxane by night.
Too often boxed in by the roles he’s played recently, Gaines here lets loose with great verve, and he’s sensational in the title number, recalling Dick Van Dyke in his prime.
Kuhn is more impressive when singing than when not, but she proves herself equally comfortable with the show’s memorable comic songs (“No More Candy” in the first act; “Vanilla Ice Cream” in the second) as with the ballads, “Will He Like Me?” and “Dear Friend.”
Sally Mayes and Howard McGillin are equally endearing as the second couple, he the unctuous Lothario, she his thankless, ever-optimistic doormat of a girlfriend.
Lee Wilkoff and Brad Kane are fine as the shop’s other employees; Louis Zorich exudes a kind of comic dignity as the cuckolded shop owner; and Jonathan Freeman is hilarious as the supercilious headwaiter at the Cafe Imperiale.
Tony Walton has solved tougher design challenges than those posed by the Roundabout’s stage, notably at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. But his solutions here, at first promising — the exterior of Maraczek’s Parfumerie — never quite deliver on that promise with the right Mittel-European eclat.
The various interiors, on a bi-level set with a spiral staircase and the orchestra creating an uncomely cavity on the upper level, are slightly tacky-looking. Rob Marshall’s musical staging is equally inelegant, with most of the dances being crude rather than vivacious.
But the costumes and lighting are fine, David Loud’s musical direction is suave, Frank Matosich’s adaptation of the great Don Walker orchestrations are lithe, and Ellis’ design for the movement of the show is always engaging.
This is the first major revival of “She Loves Me,” based on a play by Miklos Laszlo (reborn in the musical as the delivery boy Arpad Laszlo) which was also the source of two movies, “The Shop Around the Corner” and “In the Good Old Summertime.”
Though “She Loves Me” failed on Broadway, it wasn’t for lack of one of the most appealing scores of its era, the twilight of the book musical.
“She Loves Me” was one of the last major Broadway book musicals, and the Roundabout has made a thoroughly delightful case for the many pleasures it offers the ear, if not always the eye.