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 The Theatreguide.London Review

She Loves Me
Menier Chocolate Factory  Winter 2016-2017

This modest 1963 musical relies more on its romantic charm than on the generally just adequate songs by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock for its effectiveness. And this uneven revival relies on the strong moments carrying the audience over the weaker stretches. 

It is in some ways an ideal holiday-season show – its plot actually climaxes on Christmas Eve – and if you come to it in an undemanding holiday spirit you'll find it an enjoyable light entertainment. 

Joe Masteroff's book is based on a Hungarian play which had already produced three or four Hollywood films – the one about the boy and girl shop clerks who hate each other in person, not realizing that they are the pseudonymous pen pals they've been falling in love with by mail. 

To flesh out that slim story Masteroff gives just about everyone else in the cast their own subplots, all of which, naturally enough, end happily. 

The musical's success depends largely on our attraction to the central couple, and here is one of the big imbalances of Matthew White's production. 

Scarlett Strallen, to no surprise for those who have seen her before, sings beautifully, twinkles lovably and handles the comic moments adeptly.

It is almost a musical comedy tradition that leading men be wooden, and Mark Umbers, while singing adequately, brings not much else to the show, giving the character little personality or charm, and completely out of his depth in comedy. 

So Strallen carries their scenes together, and hers without him have to build up the energy that his without her will dissipate.

(Nowhere is this clearer than when her big song of delight at falling in love, Ice Cream, is followed immediately by his matching solo, She Loves Me, and you feel the life draining out of the show second by second.) 

Fortunately director White has surrounded the couple with a talented cast and inventive staging ready to pick up any flagging energy. 

Rebecca Howell choreographs several sprightly dance numbers and a general style of musical movement that makes every walk across the stage seem to be in waltz time. (And she earns extra points by managing to quote both Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins in one dance.) 

Despite not always resisting the temptation to mug and overact, Katherine Kingsley brings real comic skill to the role of the not-quite-pure fellow shop girl, and her simultaneously sweet and hilarious account of finding love in the most unlikely place, A Trip To The Library, rightly stops the show. 

Les Dennis brings welcome warmth to the fatherly store owner, Cory English makes the most of his brief role as a cafe waiter and his song about trying against the odds to maintain A Romantic Atmosphere, and there is solid support from Callum Howells and Alastair Brookshaw. 

Both the musical itself and this production may be uneven, but the pleasantly strong elements ultimately outweigh the mildly disappointing weak ones.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - She Loves Me - Menier Chocolate Factory 2016