May 10, 2008

Why I Love She Loves Me: Nicholas Martin

Like many mid-century New York kids, I was introduced to the theatre by way of the American musical; then sweetly (and accurately) called the musical comedy. It was a rite of passage for Jewish kids from the suburbs to be hauled aboard the BMT subway and carried to the matinees of shows by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Jule Styne, and Irving Berlin. In retrospect, the phenomenal thing to remember is that those composers all had shows running at the same time. It was truly a special time to grow up in the theatre. Love at first sight struck this kid when I saw (or perhaps heard) Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun, and I was stuck with a lifelong need to be part of the profession that there’s no business like.

Many years and many musicals later — though fewer and fewer as the century grew older and yielded to the genius of Sondheim, and the workaday middlebrow musical theatre of the British — there are only a handful that still remain vivid, not to say, life changing. Among these, She Loves Me has always haunted me most persistently, especially the unique power of its book and music despite the gentle romanticism of the piece. Its score is arguably the most eloquent, original, and varied ever composed. As Barbara Baxley, the original Ilona, remarked, “the music kept us so happy. No one can listen to that music every single night and not be happy.”

The book, based on an excellent play and a classic movie (The Shop Around the Corner) is unusually tight for a musical, and the piece provides bravura roles for no less than five performers, and some delicious cameos for several more.

Yet, like many other truly transcendent pieces of art, She Loves Me was not a smash in its Broadway premiere. Slowly, it graduated to the limbo status of cult musical, until finally, in a stunning Roundabout production directed by Scott Ellis and choreographed by Rob Marshall, it became the big fat hit it deserved to be in the1993 revival.

From its ethereal music to its taut and witty book to the joy in its performances, I’m sure you will fall for She Loves Me. Ultimately though, I’m directing it as my final show as artistic director of the Huntington so that I may recover a little of that boy on the subway, and perhaps give Boston the gift of eternal youth that She Loves Me inspires in everyone who knows it.

- Nicholas Martin

To read why others, including cast members Brooks Ashmasnkas, Jessica Stone, and Kate Baldwin love She Loves Me, click here. Why do you love She Loves Me? Just click below to tell us your story...

Part six of a series, with notes by Jared Craig and Ilana M. Brownstein. Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/Boston Globe

No comments: