At Broadway She Loves Me Concert, a Romantic Atmosphere — and a Breakout Performance
By Kenneth Jones
The ovation for Kelli O'Hara's rendition of the musical-comedy coloratura classic "Ice Cream" was still going strong when Josh Radnor made his entrance — prematurely, it turns out — for the next scene in Roundabout Theatre Company's buoyant benefit concert of She Loves Me on Dec. 5 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
What's a leading man to do? Run back into the wings, of course, and give the lady her moment, which O'Hara gleefully took, with a giddy bow. This was one of a dozen or so charming moments in a musical comedy that has been hailed for its charm since 1963, when lyricist Sheldon Harnick, librettist Joe Masteroff and composer Jerry Bock first saw it produced on Broadway. Harnick and Masteroff appeared on stage with the company for a bow at the curtain call on Monday night; Bock died in 2010.
If reviews were ever written about such benefit concerts, they would likely say that a musical comedy star was born with Radnor's well-sung and quirkily lovestruck performance as Georg, the chief clerk in a Budapest perfume shop who bonds with his co-workers and spars with a new shopgirl, Amalia (O'Hara) — until he realizes they have been anonymous romantic pen pals. Radnor, who plays sincere Ted in the TV sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," is making his Broadway musical comedy debut after having appeared only once on Broadway, as a replacement in The Graduate. Even-handed sincerity is hard to maintain in a musical, but Radnor did it. The Roundabout audience ate him up, particularly in his antsy rendition of the title song (which followed the knockout "Ice Cream").
Roundabout revived the romantic musical back in 1993 (under the direction of emerging Scott Ellis, who again directed for this event), ushering in an era of musicals for the not-for-profit company. The organization has now grown to operate three Broadway homes (the Sondheim, the American Airlines and Studio 54). This 2011 concert was in celebration of Roundabout's 20th anniversary of producing on Broadway, starting in 1991 at the now-gone Criterion Center. Proceeds from the starry She Loves Me support Roundabout programs including its musical theatre initiative. (Since 1993, Roundabout has produced 24 musicals, including the current Tony Award-winning Anything Goes, at the Sondheim.)
At the top of the evening, RTC artistic director Todd Haimes told the crowd that the concert brought in about $500,000 for the company.
"They should revive it with this cast," said one happy theatregoer, walking up the aisle at the end of the night.
Paul Gemignani, a fixture in many Roundabout musicals, conducted an orchestra of 17, which included a harp (for lush punctuation) and accordion (for that European flavor). As in the Roundabout revival almost 20 years ago, "Tango Tragique" was an underscored monologue rather than a song. (If you want the song, get the original cast album from 1963 — the licensed version of the score no longer includes it.)
Most of the libretto of the show seemed intact for the book-in-hand concert. The musical staging (most evident in the comic Headwaiter/Bus Boy number, "A Romantic Atmosphere," in the Café Imperial) was by JoAnn M. Hunter — and gamely danced in a ménage à trois led by Jeffrey Schechter and including Jessica Vosk and sleek Rachel de Benedet.
The 1930s-set workplace musical where colleagues genuinely like each other, temperamental bosses can apologize for bullying, ambition gets rewarded — and romance blooms — would seem to be ripe for revival. After all, the script references economic need: Outside the window of Maraczek's Parfumerie, a cold winter world is struggling through a Depression.
But inside the shop, for now, it's warm.
Other highlights of She Loves Me in concert:
Gavin Creel's unctuous, swaggering philanderer-clerk Steven Kodaly's threat-kissed "Grand Knowing You."
Jane Krakowski's affectionate and brassy turn as been-around-the-block shopgirl Ilona, belting out "I Resolve" and showing great chemistry with fellow clerk Michael McGrath (as the conformist yes-man Sipos, an endearing performance).
Victor Garber as the sadness-tinged Mr. Maraczek, complete with middle-European accent, remembering his waltzing "Days Gone By" in a time when Latin rhythms are seeping into the culture of romance.
Eager Book of Mormon Tony nominee Rory O'Malley selling innocence and hope as delivery boy Arpad, perfectly delivering "Try Me," an audition song of many a juvenile actor.
Peter Bartlett's squinting, exasperated, loose-limbed Headwaiter, spinning his drily comic lines to crowd-pleasing effect.
Roundabout Pajama Game veteran Kelli O'Hara's yearning rendition of "Dear Friend," her funny and feverish "Where's My Shoe?" and plaintive "Will He Like Me?" (also showing chemistry with not just Radnor, but with Krakowski in the duet "I Don't Know His Name").
The concert cast also included Jane Brockman, Rebecca Eichenberger, Gina Ferrall, Rob Lorey and Jim Walton.
Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.
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