Lyricist Sheldon Harnick’s declaration of praise for Matthew White’s production of She Loves Me must have been music to the ears of the cast and crew.
Indeed the 92-year-old, when invited to the stage on press night, said the production, at the Menier Chocolate Factory was “maybe the best I’ve ever seen”.
And although I’ve not seen another version, I must admit, this one is pretty special. Indeed it is colourful and vibrant, full of wit and humour, fizzing with energy and with a strong cast who deliver all the songs and the story beautifully.
Set in the 1930s, was written in the 1960s and concerns the staff of a Budapest parfumerie with a love story that has echoes of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Cyrano De Bergerc and the film, You’ve Got Mail.
It is owned by Mr Maraczek, a lovely performance from Les Dennis, whose manager Georg has been writing love letters to an anonymous woman for a number of weeks after contacting her through a lonely hearts column.
Into his life comes Amalia Balash, recently let go by a rival parfumerie who wows Mr Maraczek with her selling technique of a music box and gains herself a job - much to the disgust of Georg.
She too has been corresponding with an unknown man - and it doesn’t take much to work out who it is. However, face to face, the two get off on the wrong foot and spar verbally with each other.
However, things take a turn when they agree to finally meet each other’s letter writer at a local cafe - and things don’t go according to plan not least thanks to Georg being let go by Mr Maraczek who mistakenly believes him to be carrying on with his wife.
And here lies the first of two subplots - Mr Maraczek seeing his wife seduced by another man and the other being that of Ilona, the beautiful but unlucky in love sales assistant who has fallen for colleague Kodaly - a cad and a bounder if ever there was one. But she is made of strong stuff and in a fit of pique and after being spurned once too often she decides to go to the library and amongst the books finds herself a better man.
It is a delightful show and full of wonderful and very funny moments including a glorious scene with Cory English as the waiter who insists his cafe has a “romantic atmosphere”. Katherine Kingsley is hilarious as Ilona with her sideways glances and one liners and Dominic Tighe as Kodaly is suitably roguish.
But the night belongs really to Scarlett Strallen as Amalia and Mark Umbers as Georg who shine and sparkle like lights on a Christmas tree - and their falling in love despite themselves is a joy to watch.
She Loves Me is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street until March 4, 2017. Tickets cost from £45. Visit www.menierchocolatefactory.com or call the box office on 020 7378 1713 for full listings.