Feel free to walk on by this rote and regressive new musical with old sensibilities.
Remember how many of the Disney animated movies of the ’90s found room on their soundtracks for an alternate version of a song, slightly rewritten and re-recorded by radio-friendly pop voices like Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion? The new Broadway-bound musical based on the 1990 movie Pretty Woman dares to ask: What if we just made the whole musical out of the Peabo and Celine takes?
For this purpose, the producers recruited Canadian soft-rocker Bryan Adams and his songwriting partner, Jim Vallance. The pair have delivered exactly what they were presumably asked for: a collection of songs largely stripped of character, coherence or specificity, tagged with blandly meaningless titles like “Something About Her” and “You and I,” and filled with platitudinous lyrics so artless and generic you wonder how the performers can memorize them. They might fit right in on the next CVS Bangers mixtape, but they’re dramatically inert.
That sedentary approach permeates the storytelling in Pretty Woman: The Musical, in which hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Vivian (British actor Samantha Barks, aping Julia Roberts’s fixed-jaw swallowed diction) melts the frozen heart of billionaire businessman Edward (Tony winner Steve Kazee, putting a more sensitive spin on the Richard Gere role).
The musical’s book is credited to original screenwriter J.F. Lawton and the late Garry Marshall, who directed the film and passed away in 2016. The writers don’t seem to have done much to transform their existing script, apart from creating space to insert (not integrate) the musical numbers; otherwise, the musical hits all the same beats as the movie, often verbatim. (The one theatrical invention is to combine Mr. Thompson, the discreet hotel manager played in the movie by Hector Elizondo, and the Hollywood-map hawking “Happy Man” into a single fourth-wall-breaking role, played here by Eric Anderson as a kind of winking, puckish fairy godfather.)
Even if you leave aside, for a moment, the highly questionable decision to revisit this particular entry in the Annals of Patriarchy—in 2018, with an all-male creative team, and without altering the arc to give its female lead more agency—there’s more to adapting a movie to the stage than simply restaging its scenes. As it stands now, Pretty Woman: The Musical is less an act of translation than transcription.
Director Jerry Mitchell seems, quite frankly, stymied by its smallness—a feeling which extends to David Rockwell’s sketchy scenic design and Gregg Barnes’s mimeographed costumes. There are no opportunities for big production numbers; even most of Vivian and Edward’s songs, despite appealing work by Barks and Kazee, are less suited to advancing the story or character development than they would be to layering over end credits. As Cinda-fuckin’-rella stories go, this one’s not quite ready for the ball.
Oriental Theatre. Book by Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton. Music and lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. Directed by Jerry Mitchell. With Samantha Barks, Steve Kazee, Orfeh, Eric Anderson, Jason Danieley. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.
Average User Rating
1 / 5
- 5 star:0
- 4 star:0
- 3 star:0
- 2 star:0
- 1 star:1
I completely agree on the music being dull - lacking substance throughout. However, I did enjoy this musical which is way more than I could say about "Escape to Margaritaville". Samantha Barks is superb as Vivian and the direction is on par with others of Mitchell's like "Legally Blonde: the Musical" where scenes flow seamlessly. The script is strong with numerous audience laughing moments as well as heart-centered dialogue.
Is this a groundbreaking show? No. Is it fun and does it take you away for a night of entertainment? Yes.
If they can revamp the music, this could do a short-run on Broadway. If no change, it wouldn't last long.
Still, this is the best pre-Broadway show to come through Chicago since "On Your Feet".
I recommend seeing it.
Couldn't agree more with this review! I was so surprised when the Tribune gave this a glowing review. I thought the songs were generic and cheesy. As a huge fan of the movie, I was really disappointed with this production. If it goes to Broadway, I'm not sure it will last long.