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NOT ONLY IS She Loves Me a musical that perfectly fits the tiny dimensions of the Agassiz's stage (no small accomplishment despite appearances), but it is also a winning little presentation in its own right, a bouquet of love-scented ballads, and proof positive that spring is in the air. Fashioned out of Ernest Lubitsch's 1940 movie The Shop Around the Corner (which was in turn based on a play by Miklos Laszlo), this tale of two Budapest shop clerks who conduct an epistolary romance while feuding on the job lends itself so easily to musical treatment that you wonder why it wasn't born a musical in the first place.
With music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, the show is full of bits and pieces of waltzes, rhapsodies and tangoes and about as far away from typical Broadway fare as its setting in the Budapest of the 1930s. Eschewing razzmatazz show-stoppers, She Loves Me depends instead on a small ensemble and a collection of melodies that drift through the air--often in two and three-part combinations--as if they are the essences of the perfumes that line the walls of the story-book shop in which the action takes place. Director Josh Rubins has done well to maintain the wistful, delicate flavorings of the play, never allowing the characters to slip into the preciousness or sentimentality towards which Joe Masteroff's book occasionally drifts.
As Amalia Balash, the resourceful salesgirl who carries to her rendezvous a copy of Anna Karena and a telltale rose, Joanna Paps tempers her sure comic sense with a full-bodied soprano that is equally effective. Terry Emerson is her unknown admirer, the kind of man who might place an ad (Gentleman, 30, seeks refined, sensitive young lady for conversation and mutual exchange) in the back pages of the New York Review. To his unassuming graces fall the title song and a handful of comic duets.
However, Martin Schechter as Mr. Maraczek, the shop owner, is probably too consistently good-natured to be taken for the crusty tyrant he's supposed to be. And as Steven Kodaly, the closest thing the show has to a villian, Charles Seymour, waxed mustache not-withstanding, is a bit too charming to be properly villanous. Paul D. Seltzer, as a campy maitre'd, contributes one of the production's highlights in a number called "Romantic Atmosphere" and George Birnbaum runs a close second with "Perspective," his Thorton-Wilderesque observation on the place of man in the universe. As the delivery boy Arpad, Arthur Whitman is suitably enthusiastic. Sally Nash Gates has provided the constumes, fashioning them expertly to the time and place, and they appear to best advantage when worn by Janice Cuddy Smith. Not to end on that male chauvinist observation, be it also noted that in her two numbers--"I Resolve" and "A Trip to the Library"--Ms. Smith also presents a witty and commanding personality.
If it's qualifications you want, I could go on to complain that Rubins's choreography ("Romantic Atmosphere" excepted) fails to equal his direction: it's stodgy and underdeveloped, even within the limitations of the Agassiz's stage. And Marshall Pihl's set--although it boasts a revolving center--is not what you call inspired. But I think I'll choose instead to end with Paul Schommer's musical direction, which, to my untutored ear, handles well the supple score, maintaining a nice balance between its melodic strings and mellow horns.
And after all, it's spring, so who's to complain that this crocus of an entertainment is not a full-fledged rose. If you're in the proper mood--and, unless your tastes run toward listening to recordings of "Crisis at Harvard--Spring '69" or campaigning for Ed Muskie, you probably are--She Loves Me could be just the way to celebrate the season's rites.
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