Don’t feel obligated to buy anything for The Wick Theatre but, boy, has it got a holiday present for you.
It’s She Loves Me, the melody-rich musical romance set in a Budapest perfume store, based on the same source material as the 1939 film The Shop Around the Corner and the contemporary remake, 1998’s You’ve Got Mail. The show’s final scene takes place on Christmas Eve, but this gentle, feel-good tale would be welcome any time of the year.
She Loves Me opened on Broadway in 1963 and lasted a mere nine months, but has been revived there several times since and is a staple on the regional theater circuit. The Wick dedicates its production to Michael Larsen, who passed away before he could serve as its musical director, but it features the two-piano accompaniment that he created specifically for the show here.
Composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick gained far more acclaim with the next musical they wrote – Fiddler on the Roof – but She Loves Me has the better score. Bock’s Hungarian themes blend with Harnick’s literate lyrics to capture the insecurities and romantic yearnings of Amalia Balash and Georg Nowack, both clerks at Maraczek’s Old World parfumerie. They take an instant dislike to each other, unaware that they are secret pen pals, well on their way to falling in love before they ever met.
Amalia trills such songs of wistful heartbreak as “Dear Friend” and “Will He Like Me,” as well as the showstopping, stream-of-consciousness “Vanilla Ice Cream,” all rendered exquisitely at the Wick by their go-to soprano, Julie Kleiner (42nd Street, Curtains). Georg gets his spotlight turns as well, the nervous “Tonight at Eight” and the title tune, in which he confides in the audience his unexpected feelings for Amalia. The role calls for an offbeat romantic lead with a comic flair, exactly what it has in Matthew Kacergis.
The show belongs to the two of them, but Broadway veteran Patrick Cassidy gets top billing in the supporting role of lowlife lothario Steven Kodaly, the role his late father, Jack Cassidy, originated, winning him a Tony Award. Cassidy seems to be channeling his dad here and when he breaks into a rakish, toothy grin, the resemblance is uncanny.
With a democratic air, each cast member gets at least one solo and they score well in their spotlight moments. Barry J. Tarallo as clumsy clerk Sipos sings of his job security (“Perspective”), winsome Lauren Weinberg as an unlucky-in-love clerk makes the most of her tale of finding a bookworm mate (“A Trip to the Library”) and Tepper Saffren leads off the second act with delivery boy Arpad’s plucky audition to become a clerk (“Try Me”).
The storybook sets and fragments are a rental from the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Jim Buff again designs the stylish costumes and Josieu Jean provides the occasional snow in animated projections. Eric Alsford and Michael Friedman are the nimble pianists, two more live musicians than the Wick usually employs. I guess that is progress, even though the strings of the original orchestration are sorely missed.
Norb Joerder directs the production with a light touch, moving the action along with deft efficiency. He understands that She Loves Me is built of heartfelt emotions and restraint, and he knows how to let the material and his top-notch cast carry the show.
SHE LOVES ME, Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Saturday, Dec. 23. $80-$85. 561-995-2333.