Sweet as a sacher torte and light as whipped cream, "She Loves Me," the 1963 Broadway musical about love's illusions, arrives on public TV tonight with a cherry on top. This two-hour holiday can be seen on Channel 26 at 9 p.m. and most other PBS stations at 8 p.m.
The good news is that "She Loves Me" was produced by Terry Hughes for the BBC. The bad news is that it was produced for the BBC. On the one hand, we get a level of technical and performing proficiency that American public TV would be hard put to match; at CPB and PBS, this project probably would have bottled up in committee.
On the other hand, here we have another sign of obsessive PBS reliance on British imports. "She Loves Me" has a European setting, but it is an American musical, with a score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, who later did "Fiddler on the Roof."
The story of a love affair between two pen pals -- who don't realize that they work in the same perfume shop and can't quite stand each other -- began life as "Parfumerie," a play by Miklos Laszlo, in 1937. Ernst Lubitsch turned it into an elegant MGM comedy, "The Shop Around the Corner" (with James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan) in 1940 and then it blossomed again as an MGM musical, "In the Good Old Summertime" (with Judy Garland and Van Johnson) in 1949.
In the BBC production, Robin "Poldark" Ellis makes his singing debut -- a stiff but earnest one -- as the shy clerk in love with his "lady of the letters," played by the enticing and vulnerable Gemma Craven. Among the other sub-plotty employes of Maraczek's Parfumerie are Diane Langton as the mistreated Miss Ritter, Peter Sallis as the accommodating Sipos, and Nigel Rathbone as the benignly ambitious young Arpad.
Director Michael Simpson has managed a comfortable compromise between stage conventions and the intimate demands of television: The stylization is delicate and very, very appealing.Joe Masteroff's book survives condensation, but it's a pity the score, a glittering prize in itself, also has been abridged. The show no longer ends with a curtain-call reprise of the "Thank you, thank you, please call again" benediction sung throughout the show.
Flaws aside, this confection remains infectious to the last dollop. I have no interest in people who are immune to such charms as "She Loves Me" boasts in abundance.