REVIEW: She Loves Me, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, until June 18.

Summer 2011 at Chichester Festival Theatre gets off to the most winning and enchanting of starts with director Stephen Mear’s gorgeous production of She Loves Me.

It’s the show which eventually found its way onto the big screen as the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film You’ve Got Mail.

But whenever She Loves Me brings the movie to mind, you realise that it’s the musical that’s got all the heart, Joe McFadden and Dianne Pilkington on absolutely sparkling form as the co-workers who bicker by day while, unknowingly, pouring out their hearts to each other by night.

Designer Anthony Ward’s beautiful set takes us into a 1930s Depression-time parfumerie where the determinedly-ambitious Amalia Balash (Pilkington) strolls in, uses her wits and instantly wins herself a job, in the process upstaging golden boy Georg Nowack (McFadden) and putting his nose firmly out of joint.

Pilkington and McFadden are terrific as they clash, completely unaware they are each the other’s mushy penpal; when the first date fails to go according to plan, Pilkington is terrific again as all the hopes turn to theatrical despair. McFadden, meanwhile, having tumbled to the coincidence, wins her round with effortless charm.

But it’s not just about the leads. In some ways the most touching performance comes from Jack Chissick as the cuckolded shop owner Mr Maraczek. Meanwhile, Steve Elias as Laadislav Sipos and Annette McLaughlin as Ilona Ritter add immeasurably to the depth of it all with their own particular takes on how to fluff up life and love.

With the orchestra high up and on view either side of the stage, it’s a treat from first to last, with only the bizarre attempt at Cabaret in the café scene jarring on an otherwise perfect night.

Mear’s choreography - particularly with the mad melee of the Christmas shoppers - is a delight, and the songs emerge sweetly, even if you’ll struggle to remember any of them the next day. This is the CFT at its best, classy, stylish and fun.

Phil Hewitt