Music by Jerry Bock
Book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Spiro Veloudos
Musical direction by Jonathan Goldberg
Choreography by Iilse Robbins
At the Lyric Stage , Boston, through December 18, 1999

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

Spiro Veloudos at Lyric Stage of Boston chose the 1963 Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical ''She Loves Me' with which to celebrate the holidays.  The musical's story has been around at least since the date-- 1933-- in which it is set, its various incarnations on stage and screen including the Jimmy Stewart movie  ''The Shop Around the Corner''.  It is no surprise that such a protean narrative adapts to the Lyric's intimate scale with ease, filling the cozy space with abundant warmth and charm. "She Loves Me's" scenery requirements are another matter: a perfume shop with multiple counters and abundant stock, a cafe with multiple tables and chairs, an apartment, a hospital bed-- and every bit of each must somehow be trundled by hand onto the Lyric's barren thrust stage. Sprightly walking music covers these multitudinous scene changes, which are cleverly choreographed and carried out by an eager and talented ensemble that would otherwise have very little to do during some long stretches in the show.  Nevertheless, they-- designer Jo-Anne Kulibaba's modish spinning Art Deco walls and efficient unfolding moderne furniture and all those perky props and the eager actors who stylishly waltz them into place-- are a burden: a large lump of time and activity that diverges from and lengthens the story without deepening it.  With this lump stubbornly blocking the forward motion of the evolving central relationships, the show feels, alas, Too Long.

The opening's double number, "Good Morning, Good Day'' and ''Sounds While Selling''  is very engaging, intricately voiced and wittily  rhymed.   The salespeople at Maraczek's perfume shop establish themselves and under Jonathan Goldberg's expert Musical Direction, dealing with the day's customers with the casual virtuosity of comic characters in a Mozart opera. Their pitch perfect job description promises a high degree of customer satisfaction.  Kudos to the hard-working ensemble: Valerie Lynn Sneade, Brent Reno, Kristin Palson, Gretchen Galsworthy,  David Fougere, George S. McCarthy, Brian De Lorenzo, Richard La France, Geoffrey P. Burnseach, plus Choreographer Ilyse Robbins-- each of whom will be given a brief opportunity to shine by Director Spiro Veloudos

Then it's on to Joe Masteroff's plot. George Nowack (Chip Phillips) and Amalia Balash (Amy Soroko)  meet when Amalia applies for a job at the perfume shop where the owner's protégé, George, is head salesclerk.  The pair take each other in dislike without realizing that they are already "Dear Friends" through a correspondence begun anonymously in the personals column of the newspaper. Phillips and Soroko are such attractive personalities that it is hard to to believe that they will continue to be mistaken about each other for long.  If Amaila could see George's splendidly romantic song and dance number with the bicycle, her resistance would crumble instantly!  It is only when Job Emerson's kindly and sentimental old Mr. Maraczek goes bonkers from jealousy and fires George that the leads' happy ending is seriously in doubt.

Next, the subplots.  The naughty but nice cashier, one Miss Ritter (Maryann Zschau) is having an affair with the suave and dandified Mr. Kodaly (Steven Dascoulias), foolishly confident that he is the Mr. Right who will marry her and cherish her.  Zschau is a consummate performer, Miss Ritter just the sort of flawed but lovable comic character Zschau does best.  Even a reformed Kodaly wouldn't be good enough for Zschau's Miss Ritter, so it is more poetic justice than coincidence at work when "A Trip to the Library" supplies someone better.  Robert Saoud's  sweetly incompetent but well-intentioned salesman is rewarded with  a boost for his self-esteem,  Will Cohen's ambitious delivery boy gets a leg up the ladder of success.

Gail Astrid Buckley's period costumes draw inspiration from the more appealing trends of the era, but somehow, just out of sight of the stylish and comfortable shoppers, there are shadows. The implied contrast lends a bit of an edge to most of the plot's proceedings.  The sales clerks are rather more frantic about getting and keeping their jobs, and about flattering their customers, than is usual in prosperous present day America. It isn't quite clear what the parameters of the Hungarian class system and gender taboos are, but there are hints that the consequences of transgressing either are more serious than they would be today. 1933 was, after all, a rather grim year.  However, all the characters but one escape the complications of "She Loves Me"  without serious harm, and, appropriately enough for a love story set in a retail establishment, the show climaxes in an orgy of Christmas shopping during "The Twelve days to Christmas".  Fortunately, while Harnick's lyrics wax satiric about the bustle and commercialism associated with socially prescribed gift giving, Bock's music and Veloudos' production remain sufficiently cynicism free to add dollops of cheer to Boston's seasonal feast.