Monday, November 22, 2004

She Loves Me 
My wife and I have long loved the Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick/Joe Masteroff musical She Loves Me, now playing (through 12/5/04) at The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ. We saw that production last night (11/21) and enjoyed it immensely. We'd been looking forward to seeing it since it was announced last spring. Our anticipation didn't, as is so often the case, set us up for a letdown, it just heightened our pleasure. We've seen at least a half-dozen productions of She Loves Me over the last 25 years, from an odd little BBC production on Channel 13 to The Strollers to summer-stock to Broadway, and in many ways this was the best of them. We saw the Roundabout production with Boyd Gaines 10 years or so ago - that one had more "names" and was indeed excellent, but this Paper Mill production is cast at least as well, and the musical jewel-box of a set, using turntables and stage machinery to full advantage, adds some delicious touches we'd not seen before.

This is a gem of a show, all the more so for its long "under the radar" status. It had three strikes against it: 1) The score is so well-integrated with the book that there are few songs that can stand up well outside the context of the play. 2) Its small, exquisite pleasures couldn't compete with the likes of Hello, Dolly, which not coincidentally opened, in January of 1964, just days after She Loves Me closed. Even in the far less frenetic days of 1963, a quiet beauty like this one just couldn't escape the shadow of such glitz. 3) The setting of She Loves Me is just-barely-pre-WWII Budapest, and its elegiac tone probably didn't sit well with audiences just after JFK's assassination.

If Stephen Sondheim's Follies, which in its turn opened within months of Hello, Dolly's closing, is the simultaneous peak of and self-referential eulogy for the Hello, Dolly-style star-driven Broadway extravaganza, then She Loves Me is the culmination of the 40's-50's-60's Broadway "book" musical. It's as if an Anton Webern chamber-music piece had to compete on the same stage with a Mahler symphony.

If you haven't seen it yet, I urge you to get to She Loves Me while you still can.

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