She Loves Me

Book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, based on a play by Miklós László
Sheffield Theatres
Crucible Theatre

Karl Seth in She Loves Me Credit: Johan Persson
Alex Young and the Company in She Loves Me Credit: Johan Persson
The Ensemble in She Loves Me Credit: Johan Persson

She Loves Me is a musical with a difference. Since its first appearance as a play, Parfumerie, in 1937, it has had several reincarnations, as a film by German director Ernst Lubrick in 1940 (The Shop Around the Corner), as a film musical starring Judy Garland in 1949 (In the Good Old Summertime), leading to the present version written in 1963 by the composer-lyricist team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick with book writer Joe Masteroff. It re-emerged in 1998 with a screen adaptation by Nora Ephron (You've Got Mail) which celebrated the romance, realism and comedy of the story.

Stephen Sondheim was "a huge admirer" of the show with its small cast of "beautifully drawn, interconnected characters" and avoidance of the "big numbers" and "grand gestures" of most contemporary musicals. What we have here is a slow burn in which character is explored in depth and individual songs reveal intensity of emotion as well as humour. When the slow burn turns into an explosion, it is an inevitable and welcome consequence of the action.

The action is set in a parfumerie in a picturesque Hungarian town where the two main characters, Amalia and Georg who dislike one another intensely, have each answered a lonely hearts advert and are looking forward to meeting their loved one soon. The other shop workers are drawn into the antagonism but have their own emotional problems to resolve.

There is an excellent cast headed by Alex Young as Amelia, David Thaxton as Georg and Karl Seth as Zoltan Maraczek, the shop manager. Characterisation is detailed and convincing and the singing of individual songs is supported by helpful and very clear articulation of the words. Comic sequences are very entertaining and full of supplementary business. Adele Anderson is a powerful Maitress D’ in the restaurant scene and Lewis Cornay a natural comedian throughout.

The Ensemble has many roles to play in street scenes, the restaurant and as customers in the parfumerie, and the amusing detail they bring to their performances is a pleasure to watch.

The set designed by Ben Stones is remarkable and probably the most impressive I’ve seen on the Crucible stage. It provides the large, elegant exterior of the parfumerie which initially acts as a backdrop to the first street scene, and the transformation to the interior of the parfumerie is like watching the dismantling and re-assembly of an enormous jigsaw puzzle, perfectly achieved by the cast with military precision. The set also adapts easily to provide the restaurant scene, a bedroom and a hospital ward.

Robert Hastie directs with clarity and plenty of inventive stage business, as in a sequence when David Thaxton delivers a whole song while walking along the counters of the shop, and perilously stepping over the till and other obstacles in his way.

The music is full of gems, solo pieces that are witty or plangent, "Where’s My Shoe" or "A Trip to the Library" and company items, "A Romantic Atmosphere" or the final "Twelve Days to Christmas" had the audience leaping up to applaud. It is the originality that makes the show so impressive. We only have to accept that it defies convention, certainly of traditional musicals, but has so much of interest to offer.

Reviewer: Velda Harris