REVIEW: She Loves Me - 2016 Broadway Cast

Recording CoverTwenty-three years after they first revived it, She Loves Me is back at the Roundabout. The show is one of the under-appreciated gems of musical theatre’s golden age – it’s never been that big a hit, but it inspires enormous devotion among those lucky enough to have seen a good production, because it’s one of those pieces where the whole, somehow, is far greater than the sum of the parts. Based on Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo’s ‘Parfumerie’, She Loves Me tells the rather slight story of two warring sales clerks in a Budapest parfumerie who are not aware that they’re engaged in a lonely-hearts correspondence with each other. Thanks to Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s glorious score, along with Joe Masteroff’s literate, just-sweet-enough book, the final scene, if done well, can be a great deal more moving than you might expect. It’s a rom-com, yes – the same source material later formed the basis for the Tom Hanks – Meg Ryan vehicle You’ve Got Mail – but it’s one of the best, and a good revival of the show is always an event – particularly if it gets recorded.

And Ghostlight’s new cast recording certainly does not disappoint. There are four existing English-language cast albums of the show – two from Broadway and two from London – but this one stands head and shoulders above all of them except the matchless 1963 original. The show is on my (very) short list of musicals I consider more or less perfect; this recording delivers as good an account of the score as you could hope for, and even the minor criticisms – there are a few – are so minor that they more or less amount to splitting hairs.

At the top of the list of reasons to own this album even if you already have the other four, there’s Laura Benanti’s Amalia. She’s described this as her dream role, and – on record, at least – it fits her like a glove, showcasing her natural charm and her comic timing as well as her lovely, shimmering soprano. Her Will He Like Me? is sublime, and her Dear Friend is even better, and her Vanilla Ice Cream is as good a performance as the song has ever had. Opposite her, Zachary Levi as Georg is definitely an actor-who-sings, rather than a singer – but he sings more than well enough, and he brings an irresistible charm to his numbers. His bouncing-off-the-walls rendition of the show’s marvelous title song can’t help but leave you with a great big grin on your face, and he and Benanti play off each other beautifully.

There’s superb work, too, from Jane Krakowski as unlucky-in-love store clerk Ilona Ritter. Krakowski isn’t always a performer I find easy to warm to, but she’s absolutely radiant here; in an album full of good performances, her A Trip to the Library is one of the great standouts. Michael McGrath finds just the right note of comic exasperation in Sipos’s Perspective, and there’s a pricelessly snooty turn from Peter Bartlett as the headwaiter in an upmarket café which prides itself on preserving A Romantic Atmosphere.

The chorus singing throughout is faultless, and there are very welcome new orchestrations by Larry Hochman – thank God, for proper instruments (including an augmented string section for this recording), so there’s no hint of that metallic synthesizer string-pad sound that slightly spoiled the two cast albums of the Roundabout’s earlier revival. There’s just enough dialogue around the numbers to set the scene, but not enough that it becomes tedious on repeat listenings, and everything sounds beautifully clear. It’s obvious from every note of music that everybody involved loves the material – and also that they know where to find the laughs as well as the pathos, which isn’t the case on every recording of this show. This album, throughout, is simply a joy.

There are a couple of quibbles, but they’re little more than nit-picking. Gavin Creel is a good actor with a great voice, but either he’s somewhat miscast as Kodaly, or whatever element makes the performance successful in the theatre doesn't quite communicate via an audio recording. It goes without saying that he sings the role beautifully, but in ‘Grand Knowing You’ he sounds a little too nice. Kodaly is the villain of the piece, and the role could really use a little more bite. And while Nicholas Barasch’s Arpad is a very, very entertaining performance, there are a couple of moments in ‘Try Me’ where his singing is a little too contemporary, in a way that slightly works against the carefully-cultivated mittel-Europe-between-the-wars sound of Jerry Bock’s music and Larry Hochman’s new orchestrations. It’s not that either performer is exactly bad – it’s simply that when nearly everything else is so close to being perfect, little things stand out more than they might in a different production.

In his liner notes, the Roundabout’s artistic director Todd Haimes describes the show as a "jewel"; it certainly is, and so is this recording. The orchestra, under the peerless direction of Paul Gemignani, sound heavenly, it’s difficult to find enough superlatives to describe the leading performances, and the album is beautifully packaged, with pages of production photographs included to make those of us unable to get to New York to see the show for ourselves drool with envy. For my money, this is Bock and Harnick’s finest score; even if you own all the show’s previous cast recordings, this one is special enough that you’ll want to own it too. As recordings of revivals go, they don’t come much better than this.


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