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A CurtainUp Review
Pretty Woman: The Musical
By Elyse Sommer
But the producers have hired a team for the musical adaption now at the Nederlander Theatre to give everyone who loved that movie an enjoyable re-visit to this Cinderella-Eliza Doolittle story; many of those fans, especially women of a certain age, saw it not once but several times.
Instead of aiming for a major, more relevant update to the story the musical sticks close enough to its inspirational source to be a nostalgic feel-good experience with new romantic leads who can indeed sing and dance—as well as deliver the dialogue by the musical's as well as the movie's script writer B. F. Lawton; no wonder it's chockablock full of the interchanges archived in favorite quotes from famous book and movie quote websites. (Gary Marshall is co-credited since he was working closely with Lawton until his death in 2016).
This Pretty Woman being a musical, it's blessed to have Jerry Mitchell as director/choreographer to enliven this less than inventive adaptation and the energetic but more recording hits than story furthering songs by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance (Grammy award winners, but musical theater novices).
Actually, what's genuinely original and fun here is the way Mitchell, along with scenery wizard David Rockwell and costumer Gregg Barnes, have managed to mix a variety of styles to cleverly tap into the Cinderella-Pygmalion plots and visual memories from which Pretty Woman always borrowed. Yes, there's the stunning red dress for Vivian's opera date with Edward, but many other outfits also seem to be torn from movie costumer Marilyn Vance's sketch book, and are now worn— and mighty fetchingly so—by Samantha Barks.
Rockwell's versatile scenery smoothly facilitates the shifts between production numbers and the the hotel penthouse where the lovers' business arrangement develops into the inevitable happy and more romantic ending. The Ascot-like corporate benefit at the top of the second act is quite delicious.
The point-counterpoint in which ensemble member Allison Blackwell and Andy Karl's Edward alternate between her rousing aria from Verdi's La Traviata and his rendition of Adams's and Valance's "Between You and Me" is a deservedly show-stopping highlight. The opera's libretto also being about a prostitute and her rich lover is, as it was in the movie, another apt link to much done romantic visions of beautiful and worthy hookers.
While Barks, a British charmer who was born the year the movie came out deserves a future on Broadway, she's too locked into trying to recapture Julia Roberts' ground breaking debut, for her Vivian to make audiences forget the original Vivian. The current book and the songs do ratchet up her not being a sleazy, weak loser. As for Karl, who has provided star power to musicals that somehow fell short of being the kind of hits with record-breaking runs, this Pretty Woman's insistent emphasis of feel-good nostalgia, makes him too genial from the get-go and somehow more in need of rescuing than Vivian.
The good work by the entire cast further adds to the show's assets. It's understandable why the role of Vivian's savvy fellow hooker and friend Kit De Luca has been been expanded. If I could take a brief pause to play with being the writer of an adaptation with a different dynamic, I would have made Orfeh, who's Karl's off-stage wife, play his on stage squeeze.
Another actor who's wisely given more stage time is Eric Anderson who doubles as the show's narrator and the snooty hotel manager who morphs into Vivian's guardian angel and a sort of secondary Henry Higgins when he teaches Vivian to dance so that you practically hear her singing "I Could Have Danced All Night." Mr. Thompson's staff is also lots of fun, especially Tommy Bracco as Bellhop Guilio.
Though Pretty Woman, is infinitely fresher and more original than Getting' the Band Together, despite that show's boast about having a newly devised book. That said, however, neither Pretty Woman, the musical, isn't even close to rivalling Lincoln Center's spectacular, classy revival of My Fair Lady. The Adams and Valance songs are pleasant enough but hardly the ear huggers Lerner and Lowe's songs will always be.
Sad to say, the repulsiveness of characters who are sex workers and job destroying financial wheeler-dealers, can't be sanitized off stage — not by the powers currently dominating our real political world.
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Pretty Woman: The Musical: The Musical
Music and lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance
Book by Garry Marshall and the film's screenwriter J.F. Lawton
Direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell
Cast: Smantha Barks (Vivian Ward), Andy Karl (Edward Lewis), Orfeh (Kit De Luca), Eric Anderson (Happy Man/Mr. Thompson), Jason Danieley (Philip Stuckey), Ezr Knight (James Morse), Allison Blackwell (Violetta/Ensemble), Tommy Bracco (Giulio/Ensemble), Brian Calì (Alfredo/Fred/Ensemble), Robby Clater ( Robby Clater(David Morse/Ensemble), Jessica Crouch (), Nico DeJesus, Anna Eilinsfeld (Scarlett/Susan/Ensemble), , Matt Farcher, Lauren Lim Jackson (), Renée Marino, Ellyn Marie Marsh (Amanda/Ensemble), Jillian Mueller, Jake Odmark(Mr. Hollister/Hotel Staff/Ensemble), Jennifer Sanchez(Rachel/Erica/Ensemble), Matthew Stocke(Landlord/Hotel Staff/Ensemble), Alex Michael Stoll(Hotel Staff/Ensemble), Alan Wiggins(Senator Adams/Hotel Staff/Ensemble), Lauren Lim Jackson,Renee Marino, Jillian Mueller, Darius Wright (Ensemble).
Scenic design by David Rockwell
Costume design by Gregg Barnes
Lighting design by Kenneth Posner & Philip S. Rosenberg
Sound design by John Shivers
Hair design by Josh Marquette
Music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Will Van Dyke.
Production Stage Manager: Thomas Recktenwald
Running Time: Approx. 2 1/2 hours, including 1 intermission
Nederlander Theatre 208 West 41st Street
From 7/20/18; opening 8/16/18
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 8/22 press matinee
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