There’s only one piece of entertainment that most people are gearing up for this Valentine’s day and that’s the spank-tastic Fifty Shades of Grey. But for anyone wanting a little more old-fashioned classic romance this February, you could do a lot worse than She Loves Me.
The musical (with music from Jerry Bock and lyrics from Sheldon Harnick) premiered on Broadway in 1963 – the third adaptation of the Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo following successful films featuring James Stewart (The Shop Around The Corner) and Judy Garland (In The Good Old Summertime). That’s not to say this musical doesn’t have a modern relevance. It concerns a sales clerk in a perfumery, Georg (John Sandberg), who falls in love with a girl he’s never met but regularly writes letters to. In today’s internet age, we’re no strangers to blind dates, social apps and ‘catfishing’, but this is an old-fashioned tale of slushy goodness. When Amalia (Charlotte Jaconelli) joins the perfumery and reveals she also has a lover by letter, it’s clear how the rest of the musical will pan out.
With that predictable plot in mind, it’s a shame the show suffers from some pacing issues. She Loves Me is long, stuffed with extraneous, underdeveloped peripheral characters and rapidly dropped plot points. When one clerk leaves to open up a rival store, we never hear of the competition. When another clerk (the lovably ditsy Ilona played by Emily Lynne) falls for a rich optometrist, we never hear the outcome of their romance. The only character to undergo a transition is Joshua LeClair’s Arpad, who goes from delivery boy to clerk with a permanently fixed grin that epitomises the happy-go-lucky tone of the show. We all know the ending from the start, but it’s a slog to get there.
This isn’t helped by a score that relies too heavily on slushy Disney-esque ballads (and an irritatingly repeated barbershop number whenever a character leaves the store). The sweet-voiced Charlotte Jaconelli (of Britain’s Got Talent fame) certainly excels in these numbers with a light operatic vibrato, but her counterpart Sandberg is far from the typical male lead – his crooning sounds a little rough by comparison. Mostly, it’s a shame that the ensemble are so underused, besides one jarringly sexual dance number that features a hilariously camp and eccentric turn from Ian Dring as a café waiter. Instead, the focus is very much the central couple who form a charming partnership that’s easy to root for, amidst a cast of colourful and endearing characters and a well-designed set that makes great use of limited space.
And then, just as expected, it all just…ends.
Watch: She Loves Me runs at the Landor Theatre until 7th March.