She Loves Me dates from the same year – 1963 – as "She Loves You", but that's about it all it shares with the Beatles' hit song. This Broadway musical, a firm favourite with buffs of the genre, is set in a Hollywood notion of 1930s Budapest and boasts a tight, witty book by Joe Masteroff and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick that are full of those comic quirks and hypermetrical skids that are present in normal speech but get ironed out in show songs. Jerry Bock's delectably tuneful score is a tribute to an era (which was just about to vanish) when it was possible to be achingly romantic and killingly funny in the same number.
And now, directed by Stephen Mear in the Minerva Studio at Chichester, the show receives a revival of terrific wit, emotional warmth and choreographic wallop (the dances and movement are also by Mear). The piece is located in a swanky 30s parfumerie (a glittering, Henri Bendel-influenced) glass emporium in Anthony Ward's lovely design. We get to know and follow the fortunes of the motley team of shop assistants – especially Joe McFadden's cute, sweet-natured Georg and young newcomer Amalia with whom he bickers in the shop, neither of them realising that they are also engaged in a lonely hearts' club correspondence.
The latter's mix of aspiration and tendency to trip, with only one shoe, from the sublime to the ludicrous, is displayed in Dianne Pilkington's blissfully funny performance of the great song "Vanilla Ice Cream". Highmindedness takes a tumble as an almost crazedly gleeful little girl springs by degrees out of Amalia under the force of recognising a new passion. But then, in another riotous number, "Perspective", Sipos, the fat Mummy's Boy assistant (excellent Steve Elias) releases his inner Caruso and Gloria Swanson and veiled crush on Georg. The same sense of madness lurking just underneath the surface of the frustrated and ordinary pervades a production in which Christmas shopping becomes an escalating manic stylised scrimmage and where a supposedly romantic restaurant doubles as a den that makes the Kit Kat Klub look like Evensong. Annette McLaughlin is smashing as ladykiller-fodder who trades up and pairs off with a "slightly bespectacled" optometrist.
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