The Roundabout Theater Company’s enchanting Broadway revival of “She Loves Me” is so charming, you kind of wish it would follow you home. The show is a special triumph for director Scott Ellis, who also staged the company’s first revival (in 1993) of the 1963 musical, with its luscious score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and heart-melting book by Joe Masteroff. Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi are endearing as the shy lovers in this intimate romantic comedy, the supporting cast (including Jane Krakowski) constitutes a dream team, and the stagecraft is absolutely flawless.
The year is 1934, when the sophisticated citizens of Budapest aspired to the level of class and good taste represented by Maraczek’s Parfumerie. David Rockwell’s alluring shop setting is a beautiful bandbox, stocked with all manner of eye-catching beauty products in sparkling glass cases and vitrines and manned by a sales staff that aspires to be equally elegant and stylish.
“We’re not a butcher shop or a hardware store,” as Sheldon Harnick’s delicious lyrics point out in the opening number (wittily choreographed by Warren Carlyle) in which Maraczek’s opens for business and the sales clerks cater to a chorus of fashionable women dressed in Jeff Mahshie’s chic period costumes. Even the men look snazzy, in their jaunty fedoras.
Miss Amalia Balash (Laura Benanti), who recently lost her job at a rival parfumerie, joins this posh company by proving her savvy at talking rich matrons into buying expensive products they don’t need. In addition to her glorious soprano voice, Benanti has great comedy chops, a rarity with Broadway divas who aren’t named Patti Lupone. She’s at her best here in a part that has been waiting for her to come along, a part that seems to love her. The songs “Vanilla Ice Cream” and “Where’s My Shoe?” have her name on them — and that’s that.
It’s close to Christmas and the feeling in the air is generally festive (and candy-colored, in Donald Holder’s upbeat lighting design). But there are darker personal dramas playing out in the house of Maraczek that might blight the holiday spirit.
Miss Ilona Ritter (the divine Krakowski, whose comic gifts know no limits) and Mr. Steven Kodaly (so natty and such a cad, in Gavin Creel’s dashing performance) are having an affair. The affair ends badly, but their flirting builds to a song-and-dance duet (“Ilona”) that’s pure high comedy.
Mr. Maraczek, a lovely man played with dignity by Byron Jennings, has been distraught since he learned that his wife is having an affair — with one of his sales clerks. In a score meticulously orchestrated by Larry Hochman and rich with wall-to-wall musical highlights, including memorable songs like “Dear Friend” and “She Loves Me,” Mr. Maraczek’s bittersweet “Days Gone By” might easily have been lost.
But the intimate drama that really strums the heartstrings is the one between Miss Balash and Mr. Georg Nowack (that rare romantic hero you don’t want to shoot on sight, in Levi’s engaging performance). The two have been exchanging pen pal letters for months without knowing each other’s identity. (The story, based on the play “Parfumerie” by Miklos Laszlo, also served as the inspiration for films including “The Shop Around the Corner” and “You’ve Got Mail.”) Now it’s time for the pen pals to meet — in the romantic setting of the Cafe Imperiale. In this plush setting a worldly headwaiter (Peter Bartlett, born to play this part and every other one like it) comforts Amalia after her heart is broken (with deep feeling, in Benanti’s lovely rendering of “Dear Friend”).
“She Loves Me” opened during a period when big, fat musicals ruled the day on Broadway (Bock and Harnick’s masterpiece, “Fiddler on the Roof,” being a case in point). This little jewel of a musical may have been lost in its original setting, but we know better now.