You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Pre-Broadway Review: ‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’

Samantha Barks, Steve Kazee, Orfeh, Eric Anderson, Jason Daniely, Kingsley Leggs, Tommy Bracco, Robby Clater, Brian Cali, Allison Blackwell, Jennifer Sanchez, Anna Eilinsfeld, Lauren Lim Jackson, Renee Marino, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Jillian Mueller, Jake Odmark, Matthew Stocke, Alex Michael Stoll, Alan Wiggins, Darius Wright.

The moment Samantha Barks smiles and sings near the beginning of this musical adaptation of the film “Pretty Woman,” we know things are going to be OK.  The sense that this show — not exactly a match with the #MeToo era — has missed its cultural moment never completely disappears but it does dissipate, becoming at least semi-irrelevant when confronted with Barks’ big personality and even bigger voice.  She proves highly capable of sweeping us up, if not completely away, into this faithfully scripted (by the movie’s late director Garry Marshall and original screenwriter J.F. Lawton), blandly scored (by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance), capably but not imaginatively directed (by Jerry Mitchell) version of the 1990 mega hit that launched Julia Roberts into stratospheric superstardom.

Barks (Eponine in the film version of “Les Miserables”) plays Vivian Ward, the Hollywood Boulevard prostitute who melts the frozen heart of corporate raider Edward Lewis, played in the movie, in a famously frigid performance, by Richard Gere and here by Tony winner Steve Kazee of “Once” fame, who instead of being frigid is instead just downright depressed.  If you thought this character couldn’t be played any less dynamically, guess again. Kazee sure can sing pop songs though, investing with convincingly soulful numbness Edward’s defining song “Freedom,” which has minimal meaning — freedom from what, exactly? — other than what Kazee’s gorgeously somber tone gives it.

Adams and his long-time partner Vallance demonstrate all the promise and problems of most first-time scores by pop writers.  The songs have plenty of top-40-ish verve and amiability, but they tend to set scenes — like the song “Rodeo Drive,” which Vivian’s sidekick Kit (the entertaining Orfeh) shows up to deliver and then basically says “gotta go” —  or announce inner feelings, such as Edward’s “Something About Her,” which tips us off way too early (instantly, in fact) about the character’s deeper interest in Vivian, when really the whole story relies on that very emotion emerging and growing.  The songs don’t contain drama, nor are they specific enough to play the important story-telling role of filling in for the lack of cinematic close-ups.  Vivian and Edward rarely sing to each other, so the songs become a bit more like a pleasant soundtrack accompaniment than a necessary narrative driver.  That’s the downside of a nearly word-for-word script: Marshall and Lawton never seem ready to sacrifice a scene in order to musicalize it.

The result is the elevation of a supporting figure, with Eric Anderson effectively playing the role of the hotel manager Mr. Thompson — who initially disapproves of but then becomes enchanted by Vivian — and doubling as the painfully ill-conceived character of Happy Man, a loose-limbed, emcee-type figure who sells star maps on Hollywood Boulevard and sings the opener “Welcome to Hollywood,” and the worse “Never Give Up on a Dream,” which Happy Man sings to… Kit, not Vivian.

These are the two big production numbers, and since they can be switched out easily and replaced with something genuinely spectacular or entertaining (some actual dancing, perhaps, or at least some take on Hollywood as a generator of oh-so-rarely real fairy-tales), most certainly should be. Mitchell doesn’t need to look far for an example; think about the entertaining number “Everybody Say Yeah” in his own show “Kinky Boots,” which gave life to the factory setting by putting people on a conveyor belt.

The lack of creativity surrounding her only makes Barks’ performance more noteworthy. As long as she’s onstage, lovingly playing a character who can giggle at the opening of a jewelry box, well up watching the opera, wear the famed dresses (costume designer Gregg Barnes knows the audience wants to see the original red one) with grace, and just generally express vulnerable small-town humility amidst the polo match and Rodeo Drive settings, the show fundamentally flows.

It’s a star-making role, with a performer more-than-ready for Broadway stardom, with a show title targeted to the demographic that actually purchases theater tickets.  If everything else is nothing more than generic, does it matter?

Pre-Broadway Review: 'Pretty Woman: The Musical'

Oriental Theater, Chicago; 2,200 seats; $125 top. Opened, reviewed March 28th, 2018; runs through April 15th.  Running time:  2 HOURS, 30 MINS.

Production: A Broadway in Chicago, Paula Wagner, Nice Productions, LPO, New Regency Productions, Caiola Productions & Co., James L. Nederlander, Roy Furman, Hunter Arnold, Graham Burke, Edward Walson, deRoy Kierstead, Michael Cassel Group, Stage Entertainment, Ambassador Theatre Group, and The John Gore Organization presentation of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Bryan Adams & Jim Vallance and book by Garry Marshall & J.F. Lawton, based on the Touchstone Pictures motion picture written by J.F. Lawton.  Executive producers, Wendy Orshan and Jeffrey M. Wilson.

Creative: Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Music supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations, Will Van Dyke. Set, David Rockwell; costumes, Gregg Barnes; lighting, Kenneth Posner, Philip S. Rosenberg; sound, John Shivers; hair, Josh Marquette; makeup, Fiona Mifsud; puppets, James Ortiz; music coordination, Michael Keller, Michael Aarons; production stage manager, Thomas Recktenwald.

Cast: Samantha Barks, Steve Kazee, Orfeh, Eric Anderson, Jason Daniely, Kingsley Leggs, Tommy Bracco, Robby Clater, Brian Cali, Allison Blackwell, Jennifer Sanchez, Anna Eilinsfeld, Lauren Lim Jackson, Renee Marino, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Jillian Mueller, Jake Odmark, Matthew Stocke, Alex Michael Stoll, Alan Wiggins, Darius Wright.

More Legit

  • Audra McDonald Frankie and Johnny

    Listen: How Audra McDonald Faced Her Fear in 'Frankie and Johnny'

    When producers offered Audra McDonald a role in “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” opposite Michael Shannon, she immediately said yes. Then she remembered the nude scene. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Hell, yes, there was trepidation,” the Tony-winning actress said on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “I was [...]

  • A Strange Loop review

    Off Broadway Review: 'A Strange Loop'

    “No one cares about a writer who is struggling to write,” sings the anxiety-ridden lead character in Michael R. Jackson’s sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exasperating new musical, “A Strange Loop,” at Playwrights Horizons. The abundantly talented Jackson takes the otherwise tired trope of the young, poor and sensitive artist trying to discover his true self and [...]

  • Richard E Grant Everybody's Talking About

    Richard E. Grant to Play Former Drag Queen in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

    Oscar-nominated actor Richard E. Grant will portray a former drag queen and mentor in “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the movie adaptation of the British stage musical. “Catastrophe” co-creator and star Sharon Horgan and “Happy Valley” star Sarah Lancashire have also joined the film. Max Harwood will play the titular role of Jamie, a role inspired [...]

  • The Secret Life of Bees review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Secret Life of Bees'

    There’s a sweet sense of sisterhood that’s simply divine in “The Secret Life of Bees,” the heartwarming new musical at the Atlantic Theater Company based on Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling 2002 coming-of-age novel, set in South Carolina in 1964 amid Civil Rights struggles. (A 2008 film adaptation starred Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah.) The feeling [...]

  • 10 Comics to Watch

    Variety Announces 10 Comics to Watch for 2019

    Variety has chosen its 10 Comics to Watch for 2019. The honorees will be profiled in the July 18 issue of Variety and at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal at a cocktail party on Thursday, July 25, followed by a panel and showcase on Friday, July 26. The events are sponsored by Cohen & Gardner LLP. The [...]

  • Vanessa Hudgens So You Think You

    Vanessa Hudgens, Hailey Kilgore to Star in Reading of 'The Notebook' Musical

    Vanessa Hudgens and Tony-nominee Hailey Kilgore are joining an upcoming reading of Ingrid Michaelson’s stage adaptation of “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. Tony nominee Michael Greif is set to direct the reading, which will open June 23 at Vassar College’s Martel Theater as part of their Powerhouse Theater season. Kilgore will star as the younger [...]

  • Moulin Rouge director Alex Timbers

    'Beetlejuice,' 'Moulin Rouge!' Director Alex Timbers on Creating Worlds on Broadway

    In the past year, Alex Timbers has directed the Tony-nominated “Beetlejuice” and the stage adaptation of “Moulin Rouge!” (which begins previews June 28 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre). Here, he reflects on his most recent projects and the challenges of bringing two iconic movie musicals to Broadway within a year.  Both your musicals live in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content