Based on the Hungarian play Parfumerie -- which also gave rise to the 1940 film The Shop around the Corner and Nora Ephron's 1998 remake You've Got Mail -- the musical focuses on Georg and Amalia, two feuding shop clerks who are conducting an impassioned epistolary romance, each unaware that his/her pen pal works within arm's reach. The fun lies in waiting to see just how the veils of illusion will be peeled away.
Ashmanskas is the perfect choice for Georg. He's a touch nebbishy on the surface, but a true gallant at heart. A fully physicalized performer, Ashmanskas can always be seen to be simmering with emotion, but his antics never slide into shtick. As Amalia, Baldwin, who has a heavenly soprano, resembles an adult-size Madame Alexander doll with a severe streak. She enters the shop desperate to secure a job and in trying to block her, Georg becomes an obstacle to her ambition (a nice quality to find in a pre-feminist heroine). But when she melts, she melts.
Also on hand are the over-accommodating clerk Ladislav (Mark Nelson, who always looks like he's chewing on a secret), the eager-beaver messenger boy Arpad (the ever-boyish Jeremy Beck), the comic female sidekick, Ilona (a marvelous Jessica Stone, resembling a younger, prettier Hermione Gingold), the self-styled ladykiller Kodaly (the smugly handsome Troy Britton Johnson), and the shop's proprietor, Mr. Maraczek (Dick Latessa, who masterfully sings the nostalgic reverie "Days Gone By").
Robert Morgan's colorful costumes have the perfect early-1930s look and James Noone's set -- at first an empty jewel box of blue velvet -- pops open to reveal the sunnily lit shop and other venues, including a nightclub designed for romance, where the head waiter (a brilliantined Marc Vietor) tries in vain to quash an hysterical outbreak of louche dancing, devised by choreographer Denis Jones.
She Loves Me is ultimately nourishing, amusing, and utterly irresistible. I can't wait to see it again.
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