Cinecast Review: ‘She Loves Me’ is a Sweet Distraction

review

{All photos by Joan Marcus, and used courtesy Fathom Events}

She Loves Me, book by Joe Masteroff (based off the play by Miklos Laszlo), music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Directed by Scott Ellis; directed for the screen by David Horn. Produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company, in partnership with BroadwayHD and Fathom Events. Seen December 1, 2016.

The Shop Around the Corner. In the Good Old Summertime. You’ve Got Mail. The trope of two people who supposedly hate each other but have been (unknowingly) corresponding with each other is a fairly standard plot line for romcoms, and to be honest it’s one of my favorites. It’s one of those that is predictable as hell, and that’s kind of why I love it.

She Loves Me is that same basic plot, where Georg (Zachary Levi) is a sales clerk at Maraczek’s Parfumerie, alongside Kodaly (Gavin Creel) – who’s regularly seeing the stereotypically ditzy blonde Ilona (Jane Krakowski) who also works there – and Sipos (Tom McGowan). One day, Amalia (Laura Benanti) shows up to look for a job, and despite Georg trying to dissuade her, manages to convince Maraczek (Byron Jennings) to bring her on.

Of course Georg and Amalia hate each other on site and immediately start the belligerent sexual tension snarking that’s required with this plot. Meanwhile, we discover that they’ve been corresponding via a Lonely Hearts Club listing, not knowing it’s the other. We get the standard moment where the two decide to meet, but Georg sees Amalia first, and horrified that it’s her, almost decides to leave, but then decides to find out how this can be the same person he’s been corresponding with. He then starts falling in love with her in ‘real life’, and she in turn falls for him, not knowing he is the same person.

Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti, after their meet-cute, but before they are in love.
Zachary Levi and Laura Benanti, after their meet-cute, but before they are in love.

This also has a subplot of Ilona and Kodaly’s relationship, with Ilona deciding she is better than he treats her, as well as a subplot involving Maraczek suspecting Georg of having an affair with his wife. But as with all romcoms, it ends all happily.

There’s been some recent kerfuffle regarding Mike Pence’s attendance at Hamilton and the cast speaking to him at curtain call. On the negative, there’s been a lot of comments about how the audience is a ‘customer’ and how politics shouldn’t play a part in theatre.

However, people who are saying that are clearly unfamiliar with the purpose of theatre – especially in today’s world. Hamilton – like so many other shows being produced today – is a political show. The whole point of the production is to be political, from the casting of people of color as every role but the king to the infusing of rap and hip hop into a story about one of our Founding Fathers. Additionally, they are known for doing things at the curtain call, whether it’s a tribute to Rent on the anniversary of Jonathan Larson’s death or singing “Go Cubs Go” when the Cubs won the World Series. So having them acknowledge Pence (with a very polite message) was just par for the course.

Just another day, singing before you go into work.
Just another day, singing before you go into work.

When it happened, because of some of the reactions I was seeing, I tried to think of a show currently either running on Broadway or touring that didn’t have a political message attached to it. Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Kinky Boots are both LGBT messages; Newsies is about unions, child labor, and the power of the press, all of which are (unfortunately) still highly relevant; The Book of Mormon is about religious tolerance, faith, and appreciating a culture without changing it; even revivals such as Fiddler on the Roof and The King and I have political messages to them.

In fact, I ended up drawing a blank for a show that didn’t have some sort of political message attached to it. She Loves Me is exactly that: a musical that you see to escape from your real life, and is not there to make you think. Note that I didn’t feel obligated to warn you of any spoilers at the beginning like I typically do. If you’ve never seen this production, you’re no doubt familiar with the story and there’s not much here that will surprise you.

As a result, this production is one of those that are difficult for me to review. It’s not a bad show by any means: everyone does a fine job, and the staging is – as expected – glorious. Yet nothing about it grabbed me. In fact, as good as both Levi and Benanti are (and boy howdy, Benanti does some opera-like highs in some of her songs), I actually found myself more interested in the storyline of Krakowski’s Ilona. I loved watching her character develop from the stereotypical ditzy blonde who is ‘all about the boy’ into a woman who realizes she is worth being treated well. I ended up wishing we could spend more time on her plot line and less with the ‘standard’ A couple.

"For the first time, we were together without a spat!"
“For the first time, we were together without a spat!”

There were a couple of sequences – most notably the dance sequence in the restaurant – that felt thrown in to make sure this production filled two acts. And there’s a plot twist near the end of Act I regarding Maraczek that not only seems to come out of nowhere, but feels far too serious of an act for such a fluff-filled production. Additionally, considering In the Good Old Summertime is probably my favorite Judy Garland movie, I couldn’t help but think it was a pale imitation of that movie. (But how can you compare to Judy Garland, Van Johnson, and supported by Buster Keaton???)

But the play is sweet and more than a little silly, and as I recently argued for in my review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, you sometimes need these kind of smaller distractions from the heaviness of the world – especially now.

She Loves Me is now available for streaming on the BroadwayHD channel, and more information about the production itself can be found on the Roundabout Theatre Company‘s website.