Ever since "She Loves Me" opened on Broadway in April 1963 and closed a mere nine months later, fans of this small-scale, endearing musical have snapped up copies of the original cast album and hoped for a revival. Barbara Cook, one of the original stars, has kept alive some of the songs in her nightclub act (notably "Dear Friend" and "Vanilla Ice Cream"), but there seem to be few groups willing to attempt the difficult music and naive story.
Now the Off-the-Circle Repertory Co. has produced a vest-pocket version at d.c. space, and the good news is that the charming and seductive music is as lovely as ever. If only one could close one's eyes and just listen.
The story, which was also the basis for the movie "The Little Shop Around the Corner," is set in a 1930s parfumerie and concerns the various affairs and foibles of the owner, the clerks and the delivery boy. The "she" of the title song is a new clerk who has been carrying on a lonely-hearts correspondence with a man who is soon revealed (to the audience, if not to her) to be her superior and nemesis at work, Mr. Nowack.
Most of the action is carried forward in the songs, a score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick that produced no blockbuster hits but many delightful numbers. It is almost an operetta in tone and complexity, and requires superb voices, which this production has.
As the romantic duo, Bill Krause and Joanne Schmoll handle their high notes as well as the low with full, dexterous voices, and each of the other principals -- Bailey Saul, Kathleen Goldpaugh, Will Sherman, Anthony Brienza and Mike Giacchino -- gives the music its due. Pianist Tom Tumulty holds it all together.
But director Fredric Lee seems to be missing his customary eye for detail -- from such minor flaws as un-hemmed tablecloths and an over-rouged heroine to the more significant one of an amateurish supporting cast alternately mugging excessively or looking blank. The show has inexplicably been moved, according to the program, from its native Budapest to New York City -- but without any corresponding changes in customs, names, accents, or even currency.
Even an "intimate" musical like "She Loves Me" is a challenge for the space of d.c. space, which is such that much of the action threatens to land in one's lap. It's a handicap for players whose discomfort with acting would be helped by a little distance from the audience; possibly even the greatest performers would seem awkward under such a magnifying glass, which reveals the spit as well as the polish.
"She Loves Me," book by Joe Masterhoff, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, based on a play by Miklos Laslo, directed by Fredric Lee, produced by Morrie Kraemer and Wayne Anderson.
With Anthony Brienza, Kathleen Goldpaugh, Bailey Saul, Mike Giacchino, Bill Krause, Joanne Schmoll, Will Sherman, Kevin Carr, Cindy Marble, Tina Casamento, and Maura Deirdre Meehan.
At d.c. space through Jan. 8.