by Elisa Lichtenbaum
Every Friday night, from October through December, PBS will give theater lovers a front-row seat to some of the best-loved Broadway shows, from glorious, feel-good musicals to captivating dramas when we raise the curtain on Broadway’s Best on PBS. Kicking off the theater fest is Roundabout Theatre Company’s Tony- and Drama Desk Award-winning revival of She Loves Me (Friday, October 20, 9 p.m.), airing on GREAT PERFORMANCES.
Featuring a score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof) and a book by Joe Masteroff (Cabaret), She Loves Me follows two feuding clerks in a 1930s Budapest parfumerie who unwittingly fall in love as anonymous romantic pen pals. Directed by Scott Ellis with choreography by Warren Carlyle (Hello, Dolly!), the production stars Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi as sparring co-workers Amalia and Georg, with Jane Krakowski as unlucky-in-love shopgirl Ilona and Gavin Creel her dapper but unreliable lover.
Before you tune in, here are five reasons to love this exuberant musical Time Out New York calls “a splendid, joy-stuffed production.”
1) It Inspired Three Hollywood Movies
If the story of She Loves Me rings a familiar bell, it’s because it inspired three popular films. Based on the play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo, it first inspired Ernest Lubitsch’s 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner, starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart. In the Good Old Summertime, the 1949 MGM musical starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson, reset the story in a music shop in turn-of-the-century Chicago. And Nora Ephron’s 1998 rom-com You’ve Got Mail cast Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as rival bookstore owners in The Big Apple, replacing love letters with e-mails sent via slow-as-molasses dial-up internet.
2) The Cast Rocks (And one of the stars was in 30 Rock)
The starry cast of She Loves Me features famous faces from some of your favorite shows. Laura Benanti scored a Tony Award as striptease legend Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy with Patti LuPone, and TV audiences will recognize her from Nashville, Supergirl, and The Detour. Tony and Emmy winner Jane Krakowski wowed Broadway audiences in Grand Hotel and Nine, scored laughs galore in Tina Fey’s 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and hilariously sported a “Face Bra” in Ally McBeal. Zachary Levi was a computer-geek-turned-secret-agent in NBC’s Chuck, while Gavin Creel took home a 2017 Tony Award for his winning portrayal of Cornelius Hackl in Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler.
3) The Set Is Major Eye Candy
David Rockwell’s Tony-winning set for She Loves Me is – pardon the pun! – a scene stealer. The centerpiece of the sumptuous design is Maraczek’s Parfumerie, a high-end 1930s emporium bursting with pastel facades, Art Nouveau extravagance, and candy-colored perfume bottles. When the show begins, we see it from the outside. As the shop employees arrive during the opening number, the store opens up to reveal a majestic “jewel box” interior. Perfume counters push open and slide forward – and the store comes to life. “Every night when the store ‘opens,’ I feel like Vanna White, proudly showing off this beautiful creation as our characters do our daily routine of setting up the shop for business,” Jane Krakowski said in an Architectural Digest article. Get a sneak peek of the scintillating set in this virtual tour, led by Rockwell.
4) “Ice cream. He brought me ice cream. Vanilla ice cream. Imagine that!”
One of the most beloved songs in She Loves Me is “Vanilla Ice Cream,” a showstopper made famous by Barbara Cook in the original 1963 production. According to lyricist Sheldon Harnick, the song wasn’t added to the show until a pre-Broadway out-of-town tryout. “I wrote the song, and I gave it to (composer) Jerry Bock,” he explains in a Roundabout Theatre Company blog. “Jerry set it very fast, and then we showed it Barbara Cook, who said, ‘You know something? She’s writing a letter, so I don’t have to memorize the lyrics. I can read it. It’s a very simple tune, you’ve played it once, and I’ve practically got it. I can put it in tonight, if (orchestrator) Don Walker can do an orchestration quickly.’ We auditioned the song for her in the morning, she put it in that evening and stopped the show with it.”
5) Flexibility, Thy Name Is Jane Krakowski
Eight times a week during the sold-out run of She Loves Me, Jane Krakowski leaped into the air as love-crazy shopgirl Ilona, dropped into a split, and was dragged across the stage by Kodaly, her cad of a boyfriend played by Gavin Creel. The inspiration for this choreographic act of derring-do? “That number came out of a joyful collaboration,” she said in a Newsday interview. “Gavin called me months before rehearsals and said he had this idea that his character should seduce all his women through dance. So, would I be up for dancing? I said sure…. In rehearsal, I was just goofing around, jumped into the splits and told Gavin to pull me across the stage. Everybody loved it and suddenly it was part of the dance.”
Watch She Loves Me on-air or online anywhere you watch PBS programming, including PBS.org/gperf, PBS.org, and PBS apps for iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast. Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #BroadwayonPBS.
ELISA LICHTENBAUM | @ElisaVonTap