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NY Public Library's Information Assistant Michael T. Hearn on A Brief History Of SHE LOVES ME

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BroadwayWorld.com continues our exclusive content series, in collaboration with The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which delves into the library's unparalleled archives, and resources. Below, check out a piece by Michael T. Hearn, Information Assistant, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts on: A Brief History Of She Loves Me.

Few musicals have had so evolutionary a history as She Loves Me. Over sixty years, it has morphed from a Hungarian play, to an MGM film (which was later updated and musicalized), and then the stage show at the heart of this piece, and, lastly, a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan vehicle.

This shape-shifting story has also switched time periods, locales, character names, even emotional tone. The starting point was Parfumerie, by Miklos Laszlo. Written in 1936, and not professionally staged in America until 2009, its Budapest locale and story of feuding co-workers carrying on a written romantic correspondence was established. The play is dark in tone, especially when store owner Hammerschmidt learns of his wife's alleged infidelity. Not what you typically find in a light-hearted romantic comedy.

When it became MGM's The Shop Around The Corner, in 1940, the lovers (played by James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) became Alfred Kralik and Klara Novak. Frank Morgan (Oz the great) played Mr. Matuschek. The alleged adultery and attempted suicide from the original play are retained, but the touch is lighter.

Things are even lighter still with 1949's In The Good Old Summertime, where Judy Garland and Van Johnson play Veronica Fisher and Andrew Larkin. Now set in a turn-of -the -century American music shop, the score is, stylistically, a musical hodgepodge, centered around Garland. And, yes, there is that classic ending, featuring Liza Minnelli, walking hand in hand with her parents, who were by then a married couple.

When Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick set out to write what would become She Loves Me, they jettisoned the MGM musical, and wrote their own, retaining the darkness of Maraczek's attempted suicide plot point, but layering the romance with a sophisticated score, much of it in recitative. The 1963 dream cast-Barbara Cook, Daniel Massey, Barbara Baxley and Jack Cassidy-took root as Amalia Balash, Georg Novak, Ilona Ritter, and Steven Kodaly. Not only was the property cemented, so was Cook's career. Three of her signature songs-"Will He Like Me?," "Dear Friend," and "Ice Cream"-are highlights of this score.

The leading roles in She Loves Me have become catnip for actors. Amalia has been played, over time, by Madeline Kahn, Judy Kuhn, and Laura Benanti. Actors like Barry Bostwick, Boyd Gaines, and now Zachary Levi have played Georg. Rita Moreno, Sally Mayes, and now Jane Krakowski have been Ilona, while Laurence Guittard, Howard McGillin, and currently Gavin Creel have been Kodaly.

The original production ran for only 302 performances, but found its niche in regional, community and college theater that perpetuates its ongoing life.

Nora Ephron, in 1998, reconstituted the story yet again into the film You've Got Mail. Meg Ryan played the owner of an independent children's bookstore, whose set was as charming as the others. Tom Hanks was the conglomerate executive trying to buy her out. Ephron made it work.

Those wishing to peruse more on these properties should visit The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts' Billy Rose Theatre Division to find clippings, reviews, photos, even videotapes of many productions. In The Good Old Summertime, and The Shop Around The Corner are both in the Library's circulating DVD collection.

And who knows what permutation the next technological marvel might bring? Meanwhile, She Loves Me is back for purists to renew acquaintance, and for new generations to discover this musical gem.

Considered by many as one of the most romantic musicals ever written, people are clamoring for tickets to the Roundabout revival. I already have mine for later this month. Those musical strains already filter through my head, yearning to hear those actors' voices.

I cannot wait.


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