The story behind the musical She Loves Me—with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof), music by Jerry Bock and book by Joe Masteroff (Cabaret)—is almost as lively as the many twists and turns throughout the show itself. It’s based on the 1937 play The Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo, whose hopes of seeing it translated for the American stage never materialized during his lifetime.
Nevertheless, the play was adapted to the screen in three very separate versions, all with different titles: The Shop Round the Corner (1940), In the Good Old Summertime (1949) and You’ve Got Mail (1998), attracting stars from Jimmy Stewart and Judy Garland to Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Though a strict translation of The Parfumerie wasn’t produced in America until 2009, there was eventually a musical theater adaptation in 1963.
Renamed She Loves Me, the fluffy romance was dubbed by critics as one of the greatest musicals of all time, and yet over the next few decades it slipped out of the mainstream and is now rarely performed at all. Last week, Cinnabar Theater, increasingly committed to the revival of classics that have slipped into the margins, opened a three-week run of She Loves Me.
Directed by Elly Lichenstein with musical direction by Mary Chun, the Cinnabar production is light and sweet—if a bit draggy and slow at times—and features some fine singers tackling complexly composed tunes that, with wickedly precise lyrics packed with tongue twisters and humorous word play, are anything but easy.
Georg (Roy Eikleberry) works in a busy perfume shop in bustling, 1908 Budapest, where a motley crew of clerks spend their days selling face cream and their nights pursuing love, or in Georg’s case, dreaming of it. He’s been corresponding for months with an anonymous pen pal, and when a slightly annoying new female clerk named Amalia (Sheila Wiley) is hired at the shop, Georg has no idea that she is the pen pal with whom he’s fallen in love—and neither does she. Various subplots and near disasters carry the tale to its foregone conclusion, with every characters having his or her own arc of personal self discovery . . . more or less.
It’s a charming story, charmingly told, and though it could have used a bit more zip in the pacing, Cinnabar’s She Loves Me makes clear why so many people have been drawn to retell this tale, each in their own way, for over 70 years.
‘She Loves Me’ runs Friday&–Sunday through Sept. 25 at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. in Petaluma. Friday&–Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm. $25&–$35. 707.763.8920.