Pretty Woman: The Musical
As much one as may bemoan the ever-growing number of stage-to-screen musicals, one still has to admit that the creators of these shows are faced with a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t dilemma: change the stories and characters too much and you may alienate the target audience. And that would (or could) be a big mistake. Huge.
So it’s far from surprising that the much-anticipated “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” now at the Nederlander Theatre, doesn’t leave out a single important word or scene from the now-iconic (if still controversial) 1990 film about Vivian, a new-to-the-streets prostitute, who finds unexpected romance with Edward, a buttoned-up billionaire. (The musical’s libretto is credited to original screenwriter J.F. Lawton and late director Garry Marshall, which explains a lot of the faithfulness to the source material.)
What is surprising, however, is how fresh the show sometimes feels, thanks to Jerry Mitchell’s spirited direction and choreography, a pleasing, accomplished soft-rock score from Broadway newbie and music superstar Bryan Adams and longtime writing partner Jim Vallance, and the superb work of a fearless cast led by the extraordinary Samantha Barks and Andy Karl.
Despite the star-making potential of her part, many actresses would have shied away from the daunting task of stepping into Julia Roberts’ shoes (and hats and dresses). However, Barks’ determination to make the role her own (even when being asked to deliver Roberts’ signature lines just as she did) shines through at every moment. Luckily (for her and us), she also has a toothy, glowing smile almost as big as Roberts’, an absolutely amazing singing voice, an obvious affection for the character (who is, to be honest, barely believable as even an inexperienced prostitute), and the ability to look stunning in Gregg Barnes’ mostly gorgeous costumes (many of which are subtle replays of the ones worn by Roberts in the film).
True, the musical’s creators have made Vivian perhaps a bit more empowered than her film counterpart (thanks in part to her Act II solo, “I Won’t Go Back” and her less-than-pleasant interaction with Edward’s creepy lawyer, Philip, nicely embodied by the ever-welcome Jason Danieley). Still, the main dynamic hasn’t changed much in 28 years: Vivian remains basically a modern-day Cinderella who is transformed (at least on the surface) not by a fairy godmother, but by the “obscene” amount of money given to her by the besmitten Edward (Karl). While the pair meet, rather improbably, on Hollywood Boulevard (one of many locations deftly rendered by David Rockwell), before you can say bippity-boppity-boo, their one-hour rendezvous becomes a one-week arrangement, and ends up as a happily-ever-after romance.
Not only does the hunky, charming Karl (himself stepping into Richard Gere’s formidable loafers) manage the transition from tightly-wound corporate raider to barefoot rescuer with remarkable ease, but his smooth, pliable baritone is a perfect fit for Adams’ ballads such as “Freedom” and “Long Way Home.” Still, the show might have been just a bit more fun if Karl had gotten to actually interact with his strong-lunged, super-appealing real-life wife Orfeh, who gives 110 percent to her portrayal of Vivian’s new best friend (and fellow streetwalker) Kit De Luca, and who brightens up the show every time she appears on stage.
Still, the musical’s biggest scene stealers are the amazing Eric Anderson as seemingly straight-laced hotel manager Mr. Thompson (though I find the creators’ concept of having him double as a Hollywood tour-guide/show narrator both unnecessary and misguided) and Tommy Bracco as the loose-limbed bellboy Guilio. When these two come together, along with the male ensemble, on the dance-filled “On a Night Like Tonight,” I dare you not to break out in a mile-wide grin.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Samantha Barks, Andy Karl, Orfeh, Jason Danieley, Eric Anderson, Ezra Knight
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 7/20/2018
208 West 41st Street
New York, NY 10036