There is hardly a more perfectly constructed or simply delightful musical in the Broadway canon than She Loves Me, a 1963 confection that has long been one of my favourite shows and it comes up like a polished diamond in the Menier Chocolate Factory's exquisite new production.
Hot on the heels of Half a Sixpence that's now back in the West End -- a show that coincidentally originally premiered in the same year in London as She Loves Me did in New York -- this is a spellbinding delight, and likewise about the eventual triumph of love against the odds.
And although She Loves Me -- set in Budapest -- has on all previous outings been performed in American accents, here it has been cleverly projected into the Half a Sixpence world of British ones that makes it more intimately and instantly relatable. But for all the affinities the two shows now share, She Loves Me is smarter, sharper and more witty, more reliant on superb characterisation than big splashy dance routines.
A company of Menier veterans, led by regular Menier director Matthew White, understand the special intimacy of this atmospheric space, projecting their performances to exactly the right levels. Scarlett Strallen, previously in Candide here, is a shimmering delight as Amalia Balash, the shop assistant in a parfumerie who has an antagonistic relationship with her manager but with whom she is (spoiler alert!), unbeknownst to her, pursuing a lonely hearts correspondence with. With her bright, vivacious soprano following ably in the tradition of Barbara Cook who created the role on Broadway originally, she is a sublime singer but also a terrific comic actress, too.
Mark Umbers (previously here in Merrily We Roll Along) is no less terrific as the manager George Nowack, and with their sparring, sparkling comic energy, they could be a couple straight out of a Noel Coward comedy. But this cast is perfection all around: real-life couple Dominic Tighe and Katherine Kingsley (both of whom were in Aspects of Love here) are superb as two shop assistants having a (not so) secret affair; Les Dennis is a grumpy delight as shop-owner Mr Maraczek; while Callum Howells and Alastair Brookshaw bring colour and texture to a delivery boy and another shop assistant respectively.
The Menier has been having a fantastic year that has seen West End transfers for its last Christmas show Funny Girl and The Truth, with Travesties following them there in the New Year; while its Broadway transfer of The Color Purple won the Tony for Best Musical Revival. This is another triumph for this South London powerhouse.
What the Press Said...
"Since I missed the London productions in 1964 and 1994, it's the only one I've seen and I must say it's a delight."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"The musical accompaniment and singing are first-class, and what starts off looking like the unwanted parcel at the bottom of the tree winds up looking like gift-wrapped perfection."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"The elegant, intimate, ordered world of the shop in the run-up to Christmas is impeccably conjured in Matthew White's charming production."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard