“I always find myself in shows that are about heart and hope,” says Zachary Levi. “This is no exception.”
Levi is, of course, referring to his latest Broadway outing in Roundabout Theatre Company’s She Loves Me. The voice of Prince Charming (Flynn Rider in Disney’s Tangled) stars alongside Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski and Gavin Creel in the quintessential musical about believing in love.
The 1963 musical by Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock and Joe Masteroff is a story most people will recognize from Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s You’ve Got Mail or its predecessor, The Shop Around the Corner—if you substitute a 90s Manhattan book store for a parfumerie in 1930s Budapest. No matter the locale, the story is as comfortable as a Nora Ephron afghan on a Saturday afternoon.
Don’t mistake comfort for corn. She Loves Me is a story of genuine longing for connection and delivers a message we need now more than ever. “What I always hope is that the values that we very consciously tried to put into the show … will be realized by the cast and by a talented director and that the audience will see the show that we intended to write,” says Harnick. If Creel has anything to do with it, audiences will absolutely see that show.
To Creel, who plays ladies’ man Kodaly, the love letters between strangers that drive the show’s plot are not just a storytelling device; they are a homework assignment for the audience. “Wri-ting actual let-ters. You have to slow down and you have to go and find a pen; you have to find a piece of paper. You don’t want to mess up, so you have to think about what you’re going to write. You compose it; you re-read it; you might crumple it up and do it again. It took time,” says Creel. “This was a time when it wasn’t just ‘Screw you!’ Send! You actually had to sit and think, and I hope that everybody will sort of see the beauty of taking your time and actually investing in somebody.”
In today’s frenzied dating scene of swiping, tapping, clicking and Snapping, it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re all really looking for. We might not know we need She Loves Me, but if we look up from our phones long enough, we’ll realize how much we do.
Still, musical comedies can get a bad rap. Skeptics cling to the confines of “the real world” where no one bursts into song and life is not a fairytale. But the writing team created an honest musical of hope, reminding us the dream of finding someone is not far-fetched.
“[It’s true] they ride off into the sunset,” says Levi, our romantic lead, Georg. “So what if this is a musical? That stuff happens in real life."
“This is a classic story about wanting to be liked and be loved and being transparent,” says Levi.
Harnick and company capture falling in love and the fear that often comes with it. “The thing that makes this piece so real is the fear of actually taking a risk, and going for it and meeting [and thinking], ‘Will he like me?’ She’s so terrified,” says Creel. That vulnerability earns the audience’s trust.
Plus, the couples in She Loves Me feel like true, multi-layered people. “I always fall between the cracks of a leading man and a character guy, which is why I like Tom Hanks and Jimmy Stewart,” says Levi. “Georg is that guy, and there’s something that’s very relatable about that.”
Like any well-written love story, there are moments that ring all-too familiar—even for the cast. “I’ve done it before where I text back and forth, and I’m falling for somebody that I really haven’t gotten to know know, in-person,” says Creel, comparing himself to pen pals Amalia and Georg. “And I’m like, ‘Please let the chemistry be good. Please let the chemistry be good,’ because you can’t fake that. It could all go terribly wrong for them, and it doesn’t.”
“I think I’m a hopeless romantic,” admits Levi, “which is why roles like this…I attract them or they attract me.”
Since it’s personal for them, the men of She Loves Me have faith that their show will strike a chord with audiences as well. “The most real thing of all, the only thing any of us wants, is to matter to somebody. To feel and share love, even on a friendship level or as deep as a romantic one,” says Creel. “Who doesn’t want that?”
Ruthie Fierberg is the Features Editor at Playbill.com. She has also written for Backstage, Parents and American Baby, including dozens of interviews with celeb moms and dads for parents.com. Follow her on Twitter at @RuthiesATrain.