Quaint is a word we sometimes use to describe older, dated things that we still find appealing. It certainly applies to “She Loves Me,” the 1963 musical by composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick that was revived on Broadway in 2016 and has received several recent productions in the Twin Cities.
The latest staging, by sure-handed director Benjamin McGovern, opened Saturday at Artistry in Bloomington. The charm of the show is evident from the first note of the overture. That’s because the music, by the same duo behind “Fiddler on the Roof,” is gorgeous.
At Artistry, veteran conductor Anita Ruth, who has a cast of flawless singers, finds all the sweetness and pining romance in Bock’s lush score. That music, plus Wendy Short-Hays’ effortlessly stylish choreography, gives “She Loves Me” a fairy-tale sweep.
But the narrative, adapted by Joe Masteroff from the play “Parfumerie,” by Hungarian playwright Miklós László — the same source that inspired the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film “You’ve Got Mail” — is all kinds of quaint.
“She Loves Me” is about two lonely hearts correspondents — they are terribly attracted to each other on paper, oil-and-water in person. Georg Nowack (Ryan London Levin) and Amalia Balash (Sarah DeYong) work in the same perfume shop but don’t yet know that they are each other’s secret letter-writers. They will eventually find out.
The subplots give us stages of relationships. There’s a sneaky office romance between cashier Ilona Ritter (Gracie Anderson) and sales clerk Steven Kodaly (Benjamin Dutcher), a dalliance that turns sour.
And when shop owner Zoltan Maraczek (T. Mychael Rambo) suspects that one of his employees is cheating with his wife, Maraczek takes drastic, life-threatening action.
László’s original story, written in the throes of World War II, was always an escapist fairy tale. But in many ways, it feels especially remote today. Ilona, one-half of an office romance that she doesn’t realize everyone knows about, draws comments about her sex life; he doesn’t. She even sings a song to lament why lovers don’t introduce her to their mothers.
The show was progressive for its era, as well, in that it had a female sales clerk (Amalia).
DeYong and Levin have beautiful chemistry at Artistry. Her character is quick-witted and eager in all things. His is plodding, less aware and less ambitious. Together, they find a happy balance.
She invests Amalia with longing on “I Don’t Know His Name” and “Dear Friend.” He shines on the title song, showing us the joy of having a light bulb going off in his head.
There really are no bad performers in the show, with Rambo as the proprietor, Anderson as Ilona and Dutcher as Kodaly all finding standout moments. And in her cameo as the Headwaiter, choreographer Short-Hays finds comic gold in a show that charges up “A Romantic Atmosphere.”