Published in The Telegraph December 17, 2021
What a treat this is: a delicious romcom, staged with real wit and elan, so that it feels genuinely both romantic and very funny – not something revivals of old musicals always manage to pull off.
Set in a 1930s Budapest perfumery, decked out in the sort of pastels even Wes Anderson might baulk at, She Loves Me is a sugared almond of a show: yes, it can be teeth-achingly sweet, but it has a crisp snap to it too.
Adapted in 1963 from Miklós László’s 1937 play Parfumerie, She Loves Me has a book by Joe Masteroff, who also wrote Cabaret, and music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, who together went on to write the 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof. And if the plot – two lonely hearts fall in love through corresponding by letter, unaware that they work together in real life and hate each other – feels familiar, that might be because László’s play also inspired Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 movie The Shop Around the Corner and Nora Ephron’s 1998 film You’ve Got Mail.
It’s hard to imagine the story being told in a more charming fashion, however. The score is both sprightly and swooning, harking back to its period setting while still feeling nimble and fresh (one dubious, dated number about ditsy shop girls’ illiteracy aside). Ewan Jones’s stylish street-corner choreography calls to mind An American in Paris, shoppers whirling through Budapest’s streets. But it’s also unusually comic, with an on-point cast drilled to perfection: a particularly memorable number in a romantic restaurant blends flamenco partner-swapping, acrobatic tumbling, and slapstick comedy from a hapless waiter. It is utter bliss.
Elsewhere, She Loves Me doesn’t offer much in the way of huge spectacle or big numbers. But while it may lack the emotional heft of some better-known musicals, it retains a quirky, chamber-sized charm. Throughout, director Robert Hastie’s confident direction keeps things brisk, and although the long first half might benefit from a trim or tuck, the action always moves at a welcome clip.
You root for the central couple, Amalia (Alex Young) and Georg (David Thaxton), as they bicker blindly and then tie themselves in knots. But in many ways it’s an ensemble show, with every character given a lovelorn narrative arc and even the lowliest delivery boy getting their moment in the spotlight – one that Lewis Cornay absolutely rises to, making the entire audience fall for him in ‘Try Me’.
That said, our hearts really belong to Young, a Crucible regular who gives a gorgeous performance as Amalia. She mines the role for all its humour while also revealing a woman who, behind a confident carapace, is all anguish and nerves.
She Loves Me proves a canny choice for a festive show, with Christmas shopping forming a central part of the story, and Hastie’s production effortlessly fills what can be an unforgiving stage. That’s also down, in no small measure, to Ben Stones’s exceptional design. Brightly hued block-coloured costumes gladden the eye, and the perfumery – all Art Nouveau swirls in pink and primrose and turquoise – opens up like a jewel box to reveal a twinkling selection of cabinets and counters, which the cast manoeuvre in elegant scene changes.
Like almost everything in this show, it is sugary in the extreme – but also quite irresistible.
Until Jan 15. Tickets: sheffieldtheatres.co.uk