Pen-Pal Passion Is Revived In Broadway's 'She Loves Me'
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. There are currently two great revivals on Broadway with songs by the late composer Jerry Bock and my guest, lyricist Sheldon Harnick. One of the shows is among the most famous in Broadway history, "Fiddler On The Roof." The other is the lesser-known, but quite wonderful "She Loves Me," which has been in previews and opens Thursday.
Also with us is the director of this revival of "She Loves Me," Scott Ellis. It's a production of the Roundabout Theatre, where Ellis is the associate artistic director. He also directed Roundabout's 1993 revival of "She Loves Me," which inaugurated their Great American Musical series.
"She Loves Me" is based on a 1937 play by a Hungarian writer, which also inspired the 1940 movie "The Shop Around The Corner" and the 1998 movie "You've Got mail." The story is set in Budapest in 1934, but you'll relate if you've ever used a dating app.
The two main characters, Georg and Amalia, have just started working together in a shop that sells perfume, soaps and cosmetics. They're rivals and snipe at each other at work. They don't know that they've each responded to a personal ad and have fallen in love with the person they're corresponding with. These ads were anonymous and so are the letters they've been writing, so neither of them realizes they're actually corresponding with and falling in love with each other.
Let's start with the opening song, which is set in the perfumery where each of the characters work. It's morning and they're just arriving at the shop. The song is called "Good Morning, Good Day."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD MORNING, GOOD DAY")
DANIEL MASSEY: (As Georg, singing) Good morning, good day. How are you this beautiful day? Isn't this a beautiful morning?
NATHANIEL FREY: (As Sipos, singing) Very.
MASSEY: (As Georg, singing) Hey, Sipos, how's this?
FREY: (As Sipos, singing) That's a very elegant pose, but is all that elegance necessary?
MASSEY: (As Georg) And why not? I represent Maraczek's, don't I? We're not a butcher shop or a hardware store. We're a perfumery, and that means we're -
FREY: (As Sipos, singing) We're stylish?
MASSEY: (As Georg, singing) That's it.
FREY: (As Sipos, singing) With a quiet dignity.
MASSEY: (As Georg, singing) Yes. And we get the tilt of our hats right.
FREY: (As Sipos, singing) That's right.
MASSEY: (As Georg, singing) When I ride my bike, people see what Maraczek's like, so I think it's very important that I look my best. Here comes Ms. Ritter.
FREY: (As Sipos) Ms. Ritter.
BARBARA BAXLEY: (As Ms. Ritter, singing) Good morning.
MASSEY AND FREY: (As Georg and Sipos, singing) Good day.
BAXLEY: (As Ms. Ritter, singing) How are you this glorious day? Have you seen a lovelier morning?
MASSEY AND FREY: (As Georg and Sipos, singing) Never.
BAXLEY: (As Ms. Ritter, singing) It's too nice a day to be inside shoveling soap. I have no more energy whatsoever. Does anybody mind if I take the day off?
GROSS: Sheldon Harnick, Scott Ellis, welcome to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on this new production, I so thoroughly enjoyed it. So let's start with the opening song that we just heard, and then we'll kind of pull back and talk about this new revival. Sheldon Harnick, what was your job with the opening song that sets the scene for the whole show?
SHELDON HARNICK: It was to set the style of the show, which is an intimate show, and to introduce the people who worked in the shop as economically as possible. And also, because this was not a huge show with a lot of big numbers and it was an intimate show stylistically, it seemed useful to introduce the audience to that at the very top of the show.
GROSS: And Scott, in directing the opening number, as we're getting introduced to each person, the way you've directed it each kind of person enters from a different part of the stage and sing their few bars. And it - just, like, the timing is so beautiful. Can you talk about what you tried to do in the opening number in terms of the direction?
SCOTT ELLIS: So as Sheldon just said, it's such a beautiful opening because it does introduce all the characters. And staging-wise, the set is the perfumery and then with - the outside of the world is Budapest. So I just decided to use as much of the environment as I could to introduce each character, including going down the aisles. So it sort of gives them each a special sort of moment to be introduced and for an audience to see it.
GROSS: Scott, you revived - you directed a revival of "She Loves Me" back in 1993, and now you're doing it again. Why did you do it in '93, and why did you want to do it a second time?
ELLIS: I did it in '93 - Todd Haimes from the Roundabout had called me and said, I'm interested in working with you, and do you have something you're interested in doing? And "She Loves Me" was something that I grew up with, you know, listening to show albums. And I just thought it was, again, such a beautiful score. I didn't know the book as well, but the score was just stunning.
So I said to him, do you know the show called She Loves Me"? And he didn't know it. And I said, you should look at this. And he did, and he said OK, let's do this. And that's how it started. Then jump ahead, for this past one is that because it's the 50th anniversary of Roundabout. And "She Loves Me" actually started the whole musical theater program at Roundabout, so Todd wanted to celebrate that. And I had no interest in doing it, just none.
HARNICK: (Laughter) Thanks a lot.
ELLIS: I know (laughter). I mean, I just thought, why am I going to do this? I did it once and it did very well, and it was a joyful, wonderful experience. And I just thought oh, I don't think - it's just not what I should be doing. But I agreed to do a benefit for the Roundabout, and I think you were there, right?
ELLIS: Yeah, you were there. And I put together a benefit, and I just fell in love with the show all over again. So I made myself a deal. I said, I will do this, but I will not repeat one thing I did in the revival 23 years ago.
HARNICK: And that's why the dialogue is all different.
ELLIS: Actually, that's very true. The only thing that doesn't change is dialogue and the songs. Everything else on that stage is completely different.
GROSS: Give us an example of something that you rethought for this new revival.
ELLIS: Well, the set. The set is completely, completely different. And when I sat down with David Rockwell, we talked about Budapest and the environment, we talked about color. And we talked about, literally, the jewel box of the perfumery where everything takes place within that world and outside of that world.
And that's what sort of started the relook at this. And the curtain goes up and you see the perfumery, and then it opens up like a jewel box and it closes up like a jewel box. And that's sort of the beginning of how we started approaching this.
HARNICK: And Scott did something else which made my blood run cold when he told me he was going to do it. He said, in order to make it interesting for myself, I have to do new things, so I'm not going to use the Don Walker orchestrations. And I thought oh, Scott, but they're brilliant, they're wonderful. What are you going to do? He said, I'm getting Larry Hochman. I thought oh, Larry Hochman? Well, that's good.
So anyway, we had the first orchestra reading and I went to it with my teeth clenched thinking, have we lost those Don Walker orchestrations only to be replaced by something that's not as good? And they were wonderful. They were just wonderful new orchestrations, so that worked.
GROSS: So I want to change the mood a little bit and play one of the ballads from the show. And this is just a beautiful song. It's perhaps my favorite song from the show. It's called "Dear Friend." Would one of you like to set up where this song fits into the show?
HARNICK: I should preface this by saying the way Jerry Bock and I worked was that once we knew what the source material was, we would go into our respective studios and begin to work by ourselves. And Jerry would go into his studio and write, and then at a certain point he would send me a tape.
And on the tape, there might be anywhere from eight to 15 or so songs, and he would preface each one by saying well, I think this one's for Amalia. I think this one is for Georg. I don't know what this one is, but I like it. And one of the songs on one of the tapes was "Dear Friend." And I listened to that song and I thought, oh my, that is so beautiful. I couldn't wait to put lyrics to it.
What it is - the show is about these two people, Amalia and Georg, and through a kind of lonely hearts club arrangement they have started writing to each other. And through...
HARNICK: Anonymously. And they don't know what each other looks like, they don't know their real names. But through their letters, they have become very close. They believe that they're in love with each other. And finally, they arrange to meet. They're going to meet at a very romantic Hungarian cafe - this is at the end of the first act - but because of plot complications, Amalia goes to the cafe but George doesn't. He's been fired, and he thinks it's no way for him to go and meet her when he's depressed.
So she is sitting there for two hours waiting for her dear friend - in their letters to one another, they signed them dear friend instead of their names. She's waiting for dear friend to show up, and he doesn't, so she sings this song, "Dear Friend." And I tried to express what she would be feeling in that song, her heartbreak - her potential heartbreak because she's left alone and he never shows up.
GROSS: And I should mention - so that he could spot her in the crowd, she's carrying, as she promised that she would, a copy of "Anna Karenina" with a rose in it.
HARNICK: That's right. That's how he's...
GROSS: ...Which she refers to in the song.
GROSS: So this is the fabulous Barbara Cook from the original cast recording singing the Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock song "Dear Friend," and this is from "She Loves Me."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAR FRIEND")
BARBARA COOK: (Singing) Charming, romantic, the perfect cafe. Then as if it isn't bad enough, a violin starts to play. Candles and wine, tables for two, but where are you, dear friend? Couples go past me; I see how they look so discretely sympathetic when they see the rose and the book. I make believe nothing is wrong. How long can I pretend? Please make it right. Don't break my heart. Don't let it end, dear friend.
GROSS: That's Barbara Cook from the original cast recording of "She Loves Me." A new revival of the musical opens Thursday. With me is Sheldon Harnick, who wrote the lyrics to this 1963 Broadway musical, and Scott Ellis, who directed this new revival for the Roundabout Theatre. He also directed the 1993 revival of "She Loves Me."
So I think we all agree that that is just a beautiful song. And, Sheldon Harnick, my favorite part of that lyric - and I just love this for its just, like, honesty and simplicity and plainspokenness - is please make it right. Don't break my heart. Don't let it end, dear friend. And, you know, we were talking about how "She Loves Me" and "Fiddler On The Roof" are playing in revival at the same time on Broadway.
"Fiddler On The Roof," I think the lyrics are much more kind of complicated and more intricate rhyme schemes. And this just has this just, like I said, plainspokenness. Perfect though, you know? Spare, every word perfect.
HARNICK: What was interesting, I mean, listening to Barbara right now is that I think every song in the new revival is played faster.
ELLIS: It's so funny you're saying that 'cause that is - that's exactly what I was thinking about. Everything in that original was so much slower. I'm not saying - it's just interesting.
ELLIS: And I've not listened to the original cast album in years. I mean, I probably - I haven't listened to it in 23 years. I listened to it when I did it the original - but it is so fascinating - and I will also say when Sheldon would come into rehearsals, which I was always thrilled when he did, his one (laughter) note was always slow it down.
Slow it - I'd want a little bit more of a fast pace and I liked the - but Sheldon - and by the way, Sheldon was right. We do not do it as slow as this. But we did slow down things once you start - came into rehearsals. It was correct.
HARNICK: Yeah. Even so, when I saw it the other night the tempos all are a little faster than ordinarily I would like. But I was listening very closely, and I thought, the cast is so comfortable with the lyrics. They get every lyric out.
HARNICK: And there's only one place in perspective that I think I would like Paul Gemignani, our conductor, to slow it down...
ELLIS: ...I'm getting a note right now.
ELLIS: Just want you to know I'm going to go back and change this (laughter).
HARNICK: What horrified me just now in listening to the Barbara Cook recording is that they left out the introduction to the song. If that's from the cast album, I don't even remember that we didn't record the introduction.
ELLIS: Oh, at the very beginning with the...
ELLIS: Wow, I thought maybe...
HARNICK: ...The flowers, the linen, the crystal I see - that's not there.
HARNICK: Yeah, she just starts right in on the chorus, and that was shocking to me.
GROSS: My guests are lyricist Sheldon Harnick and director Scott Ellis. We're talking about the new Broadway revival of the 1963 musical "She Loves Me," which opens Thursday. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We are talking about the new Broadway revival of the 1963 musical "She Loves Me" with the show's lyricist, Sheldon Harnick, who also wrote the lyrics for "Fiddler On The Roof." Also with us is Scott Ellis, who directed this new revival, as well as the 1993 revival of the show. When you were working on this new revival, Scott, and also on the '93 revival of "She Loves Me," how closely did you work with Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist, who's joining us today? And what did you want to know from him? I mean, you're so lucky to be doing this fabulous revival and having the lyricist available to talk with.
ELLIS: Well, it's different this time around than it was the first time around because we've done it once. There's a trust there. We were happy with how it all worked out the first time. So I'll go back to the first time I did it and remembering that it was not that experienced. It was my first Broadway show.
But what I do remember with all of them, all three of them - and Jerry was alive at that time - it was a terrific collaboration. And they showed me a great deal of respect. I just remember even at that time in my life thinking wow, these incredibly talented, you know, successful writers are actually just sitting down and we're collaborating.
GROSS: What did they tell you that you wouldn't have known just working on your own?
ELLIS: He had a really good example of what happened this revival. Sheldon came in during rehearsals when we were in the rehearsal room and watched some of the numbers and the scenes and he'd give a few notes. And it was all great, it was fine. Joe came in. He had not been in the rehearsal...
GROSS: This is Joe Masteroff, who wrote the book.
ELLIS: Jerry Masteroff, who wrote the book. And he had not been in. So I said please come in while we're tecking (ph). So he sat down, and we did a scene and then we did a number, "Tonight At Eight," where George is talking about meeting this dear friend for the first time.
And so I was like OK, I'm sort of happy with how things are going. And (laughter) it's over with so that's good. I go up to Joe, and I said yeah, so Joe, you know, what do you think? And again, this is someone that I've worked together and trust. And he looked at me, he says that doesn't work.
ELLIS: And I was like, what? I can still get crushed. In that second, I said what, Joe? He said well, I'm sorry I'm saying that, you know, but it's just a gut thing that that's not correct for that character. I was like OK, Joe, what do you mean? I'm thinking Joe, I've done this. You know, I did - I understand this piece. And what he said was so 100-percent right. I allowed Zach, as we were exploring George and the character - and he was - Zach was exploring being a little goofier in this song. And he was - he sort of fell on the floor and he was - sat on the counter and he twirled. And he did a lot of stuff.
And Joe said very simply - he said he wouldn't do that in the shop. He respects and loves this shop too much to get on the floor, to spin on that counter that he polishes all day. And I thought oh, my God, you are exactly right. And we changed the whole thing. I went back to Zach and I said I've made a mistake. And Joe sort of pointed that out. And if that's not a really clear vision of something in his gut that he understood about this character, I went this is absolutely right. And it made a huge difference.
GROSS: Well, since you mentioned the song "Tonight At Eight," I thought we should hear it. And we do have a little snippet from the new revival. So we can hear that with the actor who you were talking about, Zachary Levi. And so this is the song "Tonight At Eight," when he's getting ready to meet this person who he basically found through a personal ad, and they've been corresponding anonymously. And he's planning to actually meet her tonight at 8. He's nervous and excited. Here's Zachary Levi from the new production of "She Loves Me."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TONIGHT AT EIGHT")
ZACHARY LEVI: (As Georg Nowack, singing) I wish I knew exactly how I'll act and what will happen when we dine tonight at 8. I know I'll drop the silverware but will I spill the water or the wine tonight at 8? Tonight I'll walk right up and sit right down beside the smartest girl in town and then it's anybody's guess. More and more I'm breathing less and less, less. My imagination, I can hear our conversation taking shape tonight at 8. I'll sit there saying absolutely nothing or I'll jabber like an ape tonight at 8. Two more minutes, three more seconds, 10 more hours to go. I'll know when this is done if something's ended or begun. And if it goes, all right, who knows? I might propose tonight at 8.
GROSS: That's Zachary Levi in the new production, the new revival of "She Loves Me" on Broadway. My guest, Sheldon Harnick, wrote the lyrics to that show as well as the lyrics for "Fiddler On The Roof," which is also in revival on Broadway. Also with us is Scott Ellis, who directed this new Roundabout production of "She Loves Me" and did the Roundabout revival in 1993. The original show was from 1963. So OK, one of my favorite lines from the song we just heard - more and more, I'm breathing less and less...
GROSS: ...His description of his anxiety. Do you remember writing that, Sheldon?
HARNICK: I remember almost getting killed writing that. That was one of the pieces of music on one of the tapes that Jerry sent me. And when I heard that, that kind of - to me, it always sounded kind of French. (Humming) I just couldn't wait to put lyrics to it. I knew that it should be for Georg, and I started to work on it. And I find that what helps me to write is when I walk. We have a swimming pool out in the country, and also I swim. And that helps for some reason to stimulate lyrics.
So I'm walking and I'm singing to myself (humming) and working of the lyric. And all of a sudden, I hear this loud horn. And I turn around and I'm 2 inches away from a huge truck. I was crossing the street and I was working on the lyric and I'm paying no attention. And this guy slammed on his breaks and honked his horn. And he looked at me, and he swore at me. And I looked at him, I said it's OK, it's OK, I got the lyric.
ELLIS: And the rest is history.
GROSS: That's hysterical.
GROSS: My guests are Sheldon Harnick, who wrote the lyrics for "She Loves Me" and "Fiddler On The Roof," and Scott Ellis, who directed the new Broadway revival of "She Loves Me. We'll talk more and hear more music after a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're talking about the new Broadway revival of the 1963 musical "She Loves Me," with songs by the late composer Jerry Bock and my guest, lyricist Sheldon Harnick. They also wrote the songs for "Fiddler On The Roof," which is also back on Broadway. Scott Ellis is with us, too. He directed the new revival of "She Loves Me," which is a production of the Roundabout Theatre where he is the associate artistic director. He also directed Roundabout's 1993 revival of "She Loves Me."
Sheldon Harnick, I know you had hoped that this would be a big hit when it opened in 1963 - I mean, everybody who works on a musical hopes it's going to be a hit.
GROSS: And although it's now acknowledged as, like, you know, a jewel of a musical, a perfect musical, it closed in nine months and...
HARNICK: Oh, it was a heartbreaking experience. We opened, and we got very good reviews. And I thought to myself, fine, we're going to be - we'll have a two-year run for sure. But after six months, business began to fall off and we couldn't figure out why.
Now, it's true that this was a time of big musicals, and we were a small musical, an intimate musical. The headline in the theater review in Time magazine, the headline for it was "The Quiet One."
HARNICK: And apparently, it was too quiet for too many audiences. They weren't used to that, so businesses just began to dwindle. And sure enough, by the time - by eight and a half or nine months later we closed. And I think we lost - if I remember right, the producer lost his entire investment.
GROSS: Oh, you're kidding.
HARNICK: So the show had closed. I was so upset that at The Grammys I didn't go because I thought, well, we're going to lose again and I don't want to be heartsick again. But at The Grammys, the show won for best new show album in that year. At any rate, a year went by without any productions. And all of us who had been associated with it loved it, so we were all heartsick.
And then there was a production at Bucks County. And to our surprise, the cast wrote a letter to Joe Masteroff and Jerry Bock and me. And the letter said we don't understand why this didn't work on Broadway. Our audiences love it. And then there weren't many productions over the years, but every so often there'd be a production and we'd get this letter. And little by little, we realized that "She Loves Me" had developed the reputation as a cult show, that there was a small cult of people who really loved this show.
And that's the way it was up until Scott revived it in 1993. And that production got love letters from the critics. And the following year, we had 60 productions, all because of Roundabout and Scott Ellis. And so that's what catapulted the show into the mainstream of musicals that get done. It was extraordinarily gratifying.
GROSS: Scott, that must make you happy.
ELLIS: Oh, please, that's, you know...
ELLIS: ...What else do I want to hear, you know? It's thrilling.
GROSS: So the show was not a hit. It closed in nine months. But there was a big hit song that came out of the show, the title song "She Loves Me." Jack Jones had a big hit of it. And I will confess here that when I was growing up I really did not like that version of the song. I...
GROSS: I started to love the song when I heard the cast recordings. So let's hear "She Loves Me" and let's play the 1993 revival version that Scott Ellis directed. Boyd Gaines, who sings the role on this, won a Tony Award for his performance. Let's hear him, and then we'll talk more about the song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE LOVES ME")
BOYD GAINES: (As Georg Nowack, singing) She loves me and to my amazement I love it knowing that she loves me. She loves me - true, she doesn't show it. How could she when she doesn't know it? Yesterday, she loathed me, but now today she likes me. And tomorrow, tomorrow, oh - my teeth ache from the urge to touch her.
I'm speechless for I mustn't tell her. It's wrong now, but it won't be long now before my love discovers that she and I are lovers. Imagine how surprised she's bound to be. She loves me. She loves me. I love her. Isn't that a wonder?
GROSS: That's Boyd Gaines in the 1993 revival of "She Loves Me." My guests are Scott Ellis, who directed that revival and the new revival on Broadway, and also with me is Sheldon Harnick, who wrote the lyrics for this musical "She Loves Me," which originally opened in 1963. And he wrote the lyrics to "Fiddler On The Roof," which is also back on Broadway.
So let's talk about this song, Sheldon Harnick. It's sung by the leading man when he realizes that he and this woman, who have been anonymously corresponding through a "Miss Lonelyhearts" kind of arrangement, are actually falling in love. And he knows who she is but she doesn't yet know that he is the person she was anonymously corresponding with. Anyways, so one outstanding line in this is my teeth ache from the urge to touch her. Have your teeth ever ached like that?
HARNICK: Well, that's something that happens...
HARNICK: Yeah, that's something that happens to me throughout my life. When I've seen a particularly pretty girl, for some reason my back teeth are very sensitive. And so I put that in the lyric. I thought it works for me. Maybe...
ELLIS: (Laughter) Maybe it'll work for other people.
HARNICK: Right. But when I was listening to...
GROSS: You need an unusual form of dentist, I think.
HARNICK: My father was a dentist and...
GROSS: Was he really?
HARNICK: Yeah, he really was and his teeth hurt, I guess - I don't know.
GROSS: Did you tell him about this phenomenon?
HARNICK: No, i never mentioned it. Of course, now I don't have those teeth anymore. Wherever they are, when they see a pretty girl, I'm sure they hurt.
HARNICK: Listening to Boyd Gaines, I couldn't help but think he sings so well and yet I don't think he's done many musicals at all.
ELLIS: Well, OK, we're so on the same wavelength. A - Boyd was phenomenal, you know, in the production and did win the Tony. But I was thinking the same thing. I thought, oh, my gosh, he sounds so, so great. He's really singing. And he did go on - I mean, he's done other musicals. He did "Contact," and I mean, he did "Company" for me.
HARNICK: Oh, that's right.
ELLIS: And he's done other stuff. But you're right, I don't remember the voice being quite as strong as that.
ELLIS: But it's great, it's great to hear it.
GROSS: So, Sheldon Harnick, another question about writing "She Loves Me." The lines are punctuated with exclamations like hah (ph) and bah (ph).
GROSS: How did you come up with the idea to do that?
HARNICK: By putting myself in Georg's soul and his heart and thinking the experience he just had where he discovered that Amalia, this clerk who works with him in the shop who he's had this terrible relationship with, he realizes that's she's dear friend. And he also realizes that he's in love with her.
And it's just such an astonishing moment that I thought he's entitled to use expletives like bah and hah. They don't have to just be ordinary lyrics. And I'm trying to remember whether that music came first. I can't remember whether it did or not. I just remember we were going somewhere where we had to audition the song and I hadn't finished it.
And we were in a taxicab and I was desperately trying to finish the song so that by the time we got to where we were going I could sing it. And I just barely - I got there. Maybe - and maybe that's why I put in bah and hah. I couldn't think of other words.
GROSS: My guests are lyricist Sheldon Harnick and Director Scott Ellis. We're talking about the new Broadway revival of the 1963 musical "She Loves Me," which opens Thursday. More after a break - this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're talking about the new Broadway revival of the 1963 musical "She Loves Me" with the show's lyricist, Sheldon Harnick, who also wrote the lyrics for "Fiddler On The Roof." Also with us is Scott Ellis, who directed this new revival as well as the 1993 revival of "She Loves Me."
So in the new revival, Jane Krakowski is cast as the second leading lady. So she's more of, like, the comic leading lady. And I think she has a lot of fans from "30 Rock" who would be curious to hear how does she sound in the context of a Broadway musical? We happen to have a short clip of her singing a song called "A Trip To The Library." Sheldon Harnick, I'm going to ask you to describe the context for this song.
HARNICK: Ilona, the character, she keeps falling in love with the wrong men, and they treat her like dirt. And finally, she says no more. I'm not going to let this happen anymore. And she goes for a walk, and without meaning to, she wanders into a library in Budapest. And she is just a little hysterical just staring at all these books and wondering and just feeling lost. And suddenly, this stranger begins to talk to her. He says - in effect, he's saying, are you all right, you know? And she looks at him and she realizes he's being kind to her.
And this is something she's so rarely experienced that it's a brand-new experience. And she is telling this experience to one of the other clerks, Sipos, who works in the shop, the fact that she's met this very nice man and how unusual that is. And that's what's happened as she says she now understands the magic of books, the fact that she's gone into the library and it's led to a good relationship.
GROSS: So this is a very short clip that we have from the new revival of "She Loves Me," and this is Jane Krakowski singing.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A TRIP TO THE LIBRARY")
JANE KRAKOWSKI: (As Ilona Ritter, singing) And there was this dear, sweet, clearly respectable, thickly bespectacled man who stood by my side and quietly said to me, ma'am, don't mean to intrude, but I was just wondering are you in need of some help?
I said no - yes, I am. The next thing I know, I'm sipping hot chocolate and telling my troubles to Paul, whose tender brown eyes kept sending compassionate looks. A trip to the library has made a new girl of me, for suddenly I can see the magic of books.
GROSS: That's Jane Krakowski from the new revival of "She Loves Me." My guest Scott Ellis directed the revival. Also with us is Sheldon Harnick, who wrote the lyrics to this 1963 musical. And he also wrote the lyrics to "Fiddler On The Roof," which is also revived now on Broadway.
So "She Loves Me" is set in the days leading up to Christmas, and it ends on Christmas Eve. Sheldon Harnick, were you hoping for a big Christmas hit from this, thought every year people would play (laughter)?
HARNICK: Oh, Jerry and I wrote a song, a lovely song, a Christmas song, called "Christmas Eve." And in reversal, it was at the very end of the show, the shop owner, Maraczek, has been shot. And he's been - you've seen him in the hospital. But in the last scene, he comes back to the shop. His arm's in a sling, but he's brought champagne. At this point, his wife has kind of left him, and his family is the clerks.
So he comes back to the shop, and they all have a cup of champagne, a little paper cup. And Jerry and I wrote a song for them to sing called "Christmas Eve." It's a lovely song, but it's a long show. And it just - when they sang it, it just seemed to be such a stage weight where you thought, yeah, the song is pretty, but why on Earth are they singing it? Yes, they've said it's Christmas Eve. They don't have to tell us that again. So the song was cut, and unfortunately, we've never been able to use it anywhere else. It didn't seem right for "Fiddler On The Roof." There was no place for it.
GROSS: So the song that you mentioned, "Christmas Eve," we actually have a recording of that because a couple of years ago...
HARNICK: You do?
GROSS: Well, a couple of years ago on the album of your demo recordings called "Sheldon Harnick: Hidden Treasures..."
HARNICK: Oh, I see, I see, yeah.
GROSS: ...There's a demo of that with you singing the lyrics. So why don't we listen to that? This is a song that was caught from "She Loves Me."
HARNICK: Oh, how wonderful.
GROSS: Right, so let's give it a listen. And here's Sheldon Harnick singing his own lyric.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS EVE")
SHELDON HARNICK AND JERRY BOCK: (Singing) There's a feeling of innocence everywhere. Quiet songs fill the air with the special sound of Christmas Eve. Simple evergreens blossom and paint the night. Red and green, blue and white, what a...
GROSS: Sheldon Harnick, is that Jerry Bock singing with you?
HARNICK: That's Jerry Bock playing piano and singing. And all I could think of was, my God, we took a slow tempo on that. That should be faster.
ELLIS: Back to those slow tempos.
GROSS: That's funny.
GROSS: And that's a demo recording, which I think explains all that fluttering noise in the background.
GROSS: It was never meant to be publicly released like this (laughter) but fortunately it's on the album "Sheldon Harnick: Hidden Treasures," which also has a lot of other of his demo recordings on it.
Well, "She Loves Me" opens Thursday. And, Scott Ellis, I think, like, right after it opens you're getting married.
ELLIS: I'm getting married next day.
GROSS: Next day.
HARNICK: Congratulations, Scott, I didn't know that.
ELLIS: I think that's sort of perfect though with the show, "She Loves Me."
HARNICK: It is, it is.
ELLIS: That's a nice...
HARNICK: It's appropriate.
ELLIS: It's appropriate, absolutely.
GROSS: Is that why you timed it that way?
ELLIS: I actually, I'll be honest with you. I timed it that way because, you know, as we've been talking about shows that succeed or fail or whatever, you know, you always put yourself out there. And we hope that people will fall in love with "She Loves Me" all the time. We don't know for certain what the critics will say.
But I said to my partner - I said, I want to get married the day after a show that started my career, that I love so, so much and that it will always remind the most important thing is family and relationships and partnerships. And so no matter what happens the night before, I will look and see what's the most important thing in my life, and that's my kids and my partner.
GROSS: Are you going to read the reviews before you get married or are you going to wait?
HARNICK: You never know what they're going to say.
ELLIS: You never know.
HARNICK: At the last revival of "Fiddler," which I thought was a lovely revival with a lovely performance by Alfred Molina, and yet the next morning before I had read the review in The Times, Jerry Bock called me and he said I just found out I write sticky pudding music.
ELLIS: Wow, yeah, just never know.
GROSS: So, you know, Sheldon Harnick, what you think of the show. You know what you think of this particular revival of the show. Are you going to care what the reviews say?
HARNICK: I'm thin-skinned enough, so I regret to say I will care. I shouldn't and particularly because we've had now - what - about four weeks of previews on this, "She Loves Me." And the consensus of everybody who's seen it is that it's gorgeous.
So they should get good reviews. As Scott and I said, you never know whether the critics are going to see it in the same way. But if the reviews are mean or if they're mean-spirited, I will be very upset, very hurt by it.
GROSS: I want to play one more piece of music. And this is - just to put it in context, this is the song that the main female character sings when she thinks she's going to meet the person she's been corresponding with by mail through this, like, "Lonelyhearts" personal ad kind of thing. And she's worried, like, well, what if he doesn't like me? So here's Barbara Cook from the original cast recording singing "Will He Like Me?" Thank you both so much.
HARNICK: Thank You, Terry.
ELLIS: Thank You.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILL HE LIKE ME?")
COOK: (As Amalia Balash, singing) Will he like me when we meet? Will the shy and quiet girl he's going to see be the girl that he's imagined me to be? Will he like me? Will he like the girl he sees? If he doesn't, will he know enough to know that there's more to me then I may always show?
Will he like me? Will he know that there's a wealth of love waiting to warm him? I'm hoping that his eyes and ears won't misinform him. Will he like me? Who can say? How I wish that we could meet another day. It's absurd for me to worry so this way. I'll try not to. Will he like me? He's just got to.
GROSS: That's Barbara Cook. My interview was with Sheldon Harnick, who wrote the lyrics for 1963 musical "She Loves Me," and Scott Ellis, who directed the new Roundabout Theatre revival of the show, which opens in New York Thursday. Coming up, book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Dana Spiotta's new novel about how art influences identity. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.