By Erik Jonathan Shuler (@ErikJShuler)
The recent Roundabout Theatre Company revival of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s She Loves Me, currently playing at Studio 54, has set a new benchmark for the musical in contemporary theater. The colorful and eccentrically intimate set designs, the classic and fashionable costumes, and the refreshingly constant motion of Scott Ellis’ staging have reenergized the potentially dated show with a new life and a relevant voice. The best asset of this production, however, is the rich, melodic score, which has found a fresh breath in Larry Hochman’s nurturing and Drama Desk Award-winning orchestrations, and with the immensely talented cast, immortalized on the now definitive cast recording by Ghostlight Records (available for digital download on 6/10, CD on 7/8).
The album begins the overture that showcases the extravagant depth of a full orchestra, which is so rarely explored in modern musical theater. The track offers a glimpse of the tunes to come, while allowing the strings and brass to have their moment to shine. It constructs a sturdy frame for the subsequent music to be painted onto with vibrant energy and youthfulness.
Immediately the voices of the cast match the youthful intensity of the orchestra with the musical’s opening group number, Good Morning, Good Day. The complex simplicity of each voice layering itself over one-another is carried on throughout the score, and creates a colorful tapestry of sound that is altogether innocently pleasing to the ear, but alive with percussive lyrics and character.
‘Good Morning…’ introduces two particularly treasured voices on the album, Nicholas Barasch as Arpad, and Jane Krakowski as Ilona. Barash, whose impossibly clear, yet quirky tenor bounces through the opening track, and is blown to its full potential in the second act’s opening, Try Me. The enthusiasm that flows through his talented phrasing is addictive.
Similarly Krakowski, whose musical talents are no stranger to the stage or screen, astonishes with the well developed character and understated vocal force. While often supporting other cast members vocally (Good Morning, I Don’t Know His Name) Krakowski is gifted with two tracks to show off her strength. I Resolve, much as the title might suggest, allows the actress an opportunity to use her brassy upper-register, which she does with her fantastic Tony-winning skill. A Trip to the Library sees Krakowski in a different light; it allows the actress to share her distinctive comedic flare, which she expertly interlaces into the musicality of the score, creating a solid and perfected track.
Other gentlemen of She Loves Me, Zachary Levi and Gavin Creel, serve the score well, and lend their voices appropriately to their parts. Levi, the unexpected romantic lead, approaches the title track with a sensible charm that is not easy to force. It soars through naturally, and supports the sweet sentiment upon which the story is based. Creel, a seasoned veteran of the stage, performs his songs, Illona and Grand Knowing You with such a skillful set of tools in his vocal toolbox, the intricate tricks, and twirls he produces color his tracks to an impressive end.
Above all, the album is under the endearing control of its role-defining leading lady, Laura Benanti, as Amalia Balash. Her voice contains such an earnest control in its constant portrayal of the character; each moment, Amalia is wholly alive in Benanti’s vocal display. The character is a bit bashful beneath her brazen demeanor. Breaking through that exterior is a journey the audience takes with Benanti through each track, beginning with the gorgeous simplicity of No More Candy, a fun, lyrical, yet tuneful song given life through Benanti’s voice. The gift is fully presented in the iconic Vanilla Ice Cream, which she has solidified in “The Canon of Benanti,” with this new, definitive version. The balance she brings with her powerful soprano, tenderly touching each phrase with a crack of comedy, is the work of a true craftsman. Benanti leads her cast bravely and boldly in their creation of the definitive recording; a commemoration of this glorious production.
For more information and to purchase the album, visit www.sh-k-boom.com/she-loves-me.