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Musical Stages: She Loves Me

Ashland Oregon production, 2010


The musical opens on an early morning in mid-summer. It ends with a Christmas that none of the characters will ever forget.

From the pens of the Fiddler on the Roof team of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnickit tells of two salesclerks who loathe each other at work--but who, unknowingly, are exchanging anonymous love letters through a lonely hearts club.

The New York critics were rhapsodic in their praise, but its original Broadway run in 1963 was unprofitable, and its songs are unfamiliar to most people. And yet, the show is done constantly around the country, and received critically acclaimed New York and London revivals in the mid 1990s.

Why does She Loves Me occupy such a special place in the hearts of musical-comedy fans? As the New York Times reported, "The songs not only capture the lighthearted spirit of the story, but also add an extra dimension of magic."

The show is based on a 1940 Ernst Lubitsch film, The Shop Around the Corner, which starred Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart. The film, in turn, was based on a 1937 Hungarian play by Miklos Laszlo—although the film added much detail and plot elements that were carried over into the musical.

Composer Jerry Bock, lyricist Sheldon Harnickhad been looking for a new project after winning a Pulitzer Prize for their Broadway hit, Fiorello! A friend of Harnick's suggested he look at the stories of writer Sholem Aleichem, and when the collaborators read the stories of Tevye the milkman and his daughters, they looked no farther.

They sketched out a rough outline of what would become Fiddler on the Roof in 1961, thenapproached Jerome Robbins, who had directed and choreographed West Side Story and Gypsy. But Robbins was busy working on Funny Girl, and the Tevye project was put on hold. Bock and Harnick moved on to write the score for She Loves Me.

The show’s appeal comes from its sophistication, form the richness of musical invention, the vividness of characterization, and the close integration of music and drama. However, as Sheldon Harnick observed, “It had immense appeal for very sophisticated theater-goes, and for very sensitive people. Once we began to run out of those, ticket sales began to decline.”

The show ran less than a year, and lost money, despite a hit record by Jack Jones of the show’s title song. A film version with Julie Andrews was announced, then cancelled.

A hit revival in both New York and London in the mid-1990s brought the show to new audiences, and continued to makeit a favorite of regional theater companies across the U.S. — including a memorable 2010 production in Ashland, OR, and one by the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble this summer. No wonder that Harnick recently named She Loves Me and Fiddler on the Roof the shows closest to his heart.

Featured here is the recording by the original 1963 Broadway cast, including Barbara Cook, Daniel Massey, Barbara Baxley, and Jack Cassidy.

 Musical Stages She Loves Me 12914 R


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