Theatre Review by Howard Miller - August 16, 2018
Pretty Woman: The Musical Book by Garry Marshall and J. F. Lawton. Music and lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. Based on the Touchstone Pictures motion picture Pretty Woman written by J. F. Lawton. Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Will Van Dyke. Scenic design by David Rockwell. Costume design by Gregg Barnes. Lighting design by Kenneth Posner and Philip S. Rosenberg. Sound design by John Shivers. Hair design by Josh Marquette. Makeup design by Fiona Mifsud. Fight director J. Allen Suddeth. Associate director DB Bonds. Associate choreographer Rusty Mowery. Music Coordinator Michael Keller and Michael Aarons. Cast: Samantha Barks, Andy Karl, Orfeh, Eric Anderson, Jason Danieley, Ezra Knight, Matthew Stocke, Anna Eilinsfeld, Jennifer Sanchez, Tommy Bracco, Jake Odmark, Allen Michael Stoll, Alan Wiggins, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Robby Clater, Brian Cali, Allison Blackwell, Lauren Lim Jackson, Renée Marino, Jillian Mueller, Darius Wright, Jessica Crouch, Nico DeJesus, Matt Farcher, and Jesse Wildman Foster.
If familiarity breeds ticket sales, then stand back and watch the money flow. Pretty Woman: The Musical is as faithful as can be to the still-popular film that skyrocketed Julia Roberts' career and garnered her an Oscar nomination back in 1990. The book's writers are the late Garry Marshall, who directed the original movie, and J. F. Lawton, who penned the screenplay. The operant motto here is: Why mess with success?
If you are unfamiliar with the story, it is a Cinderella tale with a twist, as well as an updated variation on My Fair Lady. It gives in completely to the romance while providing a gritty independence in its lead female character, a prostitute named Vivian (a vivacious Samantha Barks), and a sad-sack vulnerability in its male lead, the workaholic businessman Edward (Andy Karl). The two meet on Hollywood Boulevard, where Edward has gotten lost while driving a borrowed "brand new 1989 Lotus," as he announces, just in case you need reminding of when the show takes place. He's on his way to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where he is ensconced in the lavish penthouse suite. Vivian, an expert hustler, talks him into letting her chauffeur him to the hotel (of course she can handle a standard H shift!), and winds up making a deal to be his "beck and call girl" for the week he'll be in Hollywood on business. During the course of their time together, the arrangement blossoms from a no-strings-attached, money-for-sex transaction to a full-blown romantic entanglement.
Fans of the movie can rest assured that all of the touchstone scenes are here: the night at the opera, with Ms. Barks wearing the red dress we expect to see her in (designed by Gregg Barnes, who cleaves closely to Julia Roberts' looks from the movie); Vivian's two visits to Rodeo Drive, one where she is shamed by the snooty sales staff, the other where she gets her revenge on them; the trip to the polo match, reminiscent of Liza Doolittle's visit to Ascot in My Fair Lady; and the ending where Vivian and Edward come together as equals ("And she rescues him right back.")
There are also the kinds of songs you can expect to find in a typical, by-the-rules Broadway musical. There is, for example, a big scene-setting opener, "Welcome to Hollywood," and a "wish" song that Ms. Barks sings immediately following the opening, called "Anywhere But Here." Musically, however, there is enough variety throughout to keep things interesting. Adams and Vallance have even come up with a tango and a swing number. But there are at least two misfires. One is Edward's first song, which he performs within minutes of meeting Vivian. It's called "Something About Her" in which he explains how exceptionally special Vivian is but which comes way before we've seen anything at all special about her. The other is called "Never Give Up On A Dream," which is fine in and of itself but which comes out of the blue and is performed by secondary characters seemingly as a time filler while Ms. Barks is backstage changing for her appearance in the all-important falling-in-love scene where Edward takes Vivian to the opera to see "La Traviata."
Both Ms. Barks and Mr. Karl are very good in their roles, but neither has the opportunity to win over the audience the way that two of the key supporting players do. First of all, there is Orfeh, who, as she was in the Broadway production of Legally Blonde: The Musical, is relegated to the role of the friend of the lead character. Would someone please write a show in which she can star, because every time she opens her mouth to let loose with her roof-shaking voice, she has us eating out of her hands. With all due respect to Ms. Barks, Orfeh is someone about whom one might easily sing "there's something about her." She'd make a most interesting Vivian herself.
The other winning performance is that of Eric Anderson. He plays both our guide and narrator known as Happy Man, and Mr. Thompson, the manager of the Beverly Wilshire who befriends Vivian. Mr. Thompson is reminiscent of My Fair Lady's Colonel Pickering. He essentially helps Vivian to understand that the difference between a lady and a prostitute is not how she behaves, but how she is treated. I guarantee you will like this guy as he takes Vivian under his wing.
As a director/choreography, Jerry Mitchell is still better at the latter than the former, and he has eight Tony nominations and a couple of wins (Kinky Boots and La Cage aux Folles) to prove it. There are several dance-heavy scenes that allow him to show his stuff here, including a charming number where Mr. Thompson and a group of bellmen are teaching Vivian to dance ("On a Night Like Tonight."). Still, in his director's hat, he keeps things moving along nicely and, more importantly, keeps the overall tone where it belongs, in the world of romantic fantasy and fairy tales. Pretty Woman: The Musical is not going to set the world on fire, but it is pretty much of a surefire winner that is likely to attract lovers of old-fashioned romantic musicals for a long time to come.