An Early Summer Night's She Loves Me With Santino Fontana, Alexandra Silber and Montego Glover
By Steven Suskin
Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's She Loves Me proved thoroughly delightful June 22 as the opening attraction of the Caramoor Arts Festival in Katonah, New York. Conductor/director Ted Sperling led a cast of Broadway regulars in a 50th anniversary concert version that once again demonstrated that Bock and Harnick's 1963 score ranks high among Broadway's all-time favorites.
Santino Fontana and Alexandra Silber charmed the audience as the pen-pal lovers, Georg and Amalia. Fontana — moonlighting from his regular job as the likable (and Tony-nominated) Prince in Cinderella — turns out to be a musical comedy natural, all but bubbling over in "Tonight at Eight" and the title song. Silber, recently heard opposite Fontana in Sperling's "Song of Norway" at Carnegie Hall, scored with her big solo, "Ice Cream."
Montego Glover, star of the 2009 musical Memphis, proved herself adept and funny as Ilona, bringing full value to Bock and Harnick's Bolero-infused "Trip to the Library." Ryan Silverman, who was highly impressive as Giorgio in the Classic Stage Company's Passion, showed his comic side as the scenery-chewing ham Kodaly. Two-time Tony winner John Cullum, with a customary glint in his eye, charmed the audience as parfumerie-owner Maraczek.
Also shining in their solos were Brad Oscar (The Producers) with "Perspective," and Etai BenShlomo (Wicked) with "Try Me." Jonathan Freeman, from the 1993 Roundabout revival, was on hand to reprise his performance as the imperious Headwaiter trying to preserve a romantic atmosphere. The concert was simply staged in front of the orchestra, with costumes and props.
A major highlight of the evening was the rare opportunity to hear the full score with a full orchestra playing Don Walker's original orchestrations. (The aforementioned revival, which transferred to the Atkinson, was marred by a cut-down orchestra reliant on synthesizers.) Sperling happily reverted to the 1963 charts, which feature accordion, violin and harp, and add a sacher-torte lushness to this romantic tale of 1934 Budapest.
She Loves Me was originally produced by Harold Prince, who used the occasion to make his Broadway directing debut. Well-received, with memorable performances from Barbara Cook, Daniel Massey, Barbara Baxley and Jack Cassidy, the show lasted a mere 301 performances. The Bock/Harnick/Prince team — which on their first outing had won the Pulitzer for Fiorello! — quickly rebounded with their next musical, Fiddler on the Roof. Many aficionados, nonetheless, rate She Loves Me as their finest score.
Miklos Laszlo's original play also served Hollywood as source material for Ernst Lubitsch's "The Shop Around the Corner" (starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan), M-G-M's "In the Good Old Summertime" (starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson) and Nora Ephron's "You've Got Mail" (starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan). All of these adaptations are charming, but none quite so much as the original She Loves Me. The fine score was mated to an adept libretto by Joe Masteroff, who soon thereafter reunited with Prince for Cabaret.
The concert was produced as the gala opening attraction of the Caramoor Festival, on an historic estate just an hour's drive from midtown Manhattan. The performance was held in the site's Venetian Theatre, an open-sided tent that seats over 1,700. Now in its 68th season, this marks the first Broadway musical to be presented at the festival; hopefully, the success of the evening will result in more to come. She Loves Me played a second and final performance June 23) at 4 PM.
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