×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: ‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’

An iconic movie bids to become “My Fair Lady of the Evening,” but isn’t quite so loverly.

With:
Samantha Barks, Andy Karl, Orfeh, Eric Anderson, Jason Danieley, Ezra Knight, Allison Blackwell, Tommy Bracco, Brian Cali, Robby Clater, Jessica Crouch, Nico DeJesus, Anna Eilinsfeld, Matt Farcher, Lauren Lim Jackson, Renee Marino, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Jillian Mueller, Jake Odmark, Jennifer Sanchez, Matthew Stocke, Alex Michael Stoll, Alan Wiggins, Jesse Wildman Foster, Darius Wright.

When the 1990 movie comedy “Pretty Woman” catapulted Julia Roberts to stardom, it was widely reported that Disney and late director Garry Marshall had tweaked J.F. Lawton’s downbeat prostitute/john tale “Three Thousand” into a sumptuous rom-com, to the profit of all concerned. Its newest incarnation sanitizes the tale completely. With anything mature or sensual systematically removed, “Pretty Woman: The Musical” goes all-in on fantasy, casting two sizzling talents, Samantha Barks and Andy Karl, as bland, pretty people singing pretty Bryan Adams-Jim Vallance tunes with nothing much at stake. Stubbornly inconsequential, it’s a morally uplifting fairy tale of which everyone, young and old alike, can be skeptical.

The Lawton-Marshall libretto fundamentally sticks to the screenplay line by line, joke by joke. Multimillionaire corporate raider Edward Lewis (Karl) hops in a brand-new 1989 Lotus Esprit and, in an impulse maybe only Hugh Grant could explain, whisks streetwalker Vivian Ward (Barks) from Hollywood Blvd. to his Beverly Hills hotel penthouse. A $300 night of whoopie turns into a $3,000 week of companionship among the niteries, country clubs and opera houses of the super-rich, and to hear the script tell it, each rescues the other: He pulls her out of The Life, while she teaches him to Really Feel.

Fair enough. The movie asked us to take Vivian’s degradation mostly on faith anyway, and probably even “Three Thousand” never aspired to the gritty detail of “Klute” or “Leaving Las Vegas.” But this version takes the absence of realism even further. The plucky, self-assured Vivian, in miniskirt and thigh-highs, could easily give the impression she’s simply a chirpy flight attendant stuck working one of those bargain airlines.

As Barks hops onto a bench to exchange Mary-and-Rhoda wisecracks with BFF Kit (Orfeh), surrounded by “Guys and Dolls” goofballs, the notion that this winsome gamine is a sex worker on the prowl is preposterous. (The movie’s debate over whether to take on a pimp, and the roughnecks who threaten to work the women over, are pointedly omitted.) No hooker’s ever been merrier, gaily skipping across Edward’s room with a cushion for her knees in order to make the acquaintance of his zipper, though as we go to black it’s more likely she’s there tying his shoelaces. She says she does “everything except kiss on the mouth,” yet kissability is the one carnal trait you’d bet she possessed.

Then again, director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell and team toss a decided gloss over this G-rated version of Hollywood nights, with production numbers and ensemble acting executed with exaggerated musical-comedy snap. The boulevard is cheery as a carnival, and despite an interesting between-scenes silhouette motif from David Rockwell (sets) and Kenneth Posner and Philip S. Rosenberg (lighting), there’s little sense of Vivian and Edward’s moving between opposing worlds. So sanitized is the material for our protection that the dumpster discovery of “Skinny Marie,” beaten to death, gets a ho-hum reaction, tastelessly followed by “Happy Man” (Eric Anderson), our singing-dancing ragbag emcee, genially assuring us that we should “never fear — let hope and faith surround you…. Don’t give up until your dreams have found you.” Tell that to Marie.

As for the Cinderella story, what’s to rescue? With Vivian already a wholesome cockeyed optimist, her “before” scenes just play up her foul mouth and loud nose-blowing. But don the famous cocktail dress or that iconic red gown (recreated just so by Gregg Barnes) and she’s as poised as Kate Middleton. No Galahad has to rescue her from grabby lawyer Philip (Jason Danieley, maxi-smarm) — she’s got the moves. The more sangfroid Vivian displays, the emptier her plight becomes, not to mention her lyrics about aching to be “anywhere but here.”

For his part, Karl’s warmth belies his efforts to represent a soulless money machine and people-user, though he pulled that off bigtime in “Groundhog Day.” His “I want” song says he craves “Freedom” (which must mean “affection” or “purpose,” since wealth is the best ticket to freedom there is), yet his claims of being troubled lack conviction. Meeting Vivian, he soliloquizes, “There’s something about her/ She’s charming there’s no doubt,” and there’s no doubt there’ll be no need for a character reversal. He’s healed already.

There’s also no doubt about anyone’s frame of mind, since the country-tinged pop numbers consistently announce each singer’s subtext. Though the lyrics teem with cliche, the cast gives its all to sell them, starting with the vocally confident Barks and Karl. Orfeh’s Kit — all gospel-worthy pipes and Jersey Shore attitude — is utterly tangential to the story but welcome in every appearance. Anderson doubles neatly as the supple Happy Man and the upright, uptight hotel manager, though the latter would serve us better with a clever character song than a tacky tango number with his bellboys.

One moment in act one is at odds with the overall weightlessness. Downstage center, Barks gazes at Edward’s TV during her champagne-and-strawberries “carpet picnic.” Moodily lit by Posner and Rosenberg, she faces front, and you can suddenly read everything on her face you’d expect a true casualty of mean streets to feel: pain, fear, regret — a fleeting glimpse of the emotional truth of Barks’ Eponine in the film version of “Les Miserables.” More of that might not make Vivian any prettier, but it could render her, and the show around her, much more truthful and affecting.

Popular on Variety

Broadway Review: 'Pretty Woman: The Musical'

Nederlander Theater; 1,168 seats; $169 top. Opened Aug. 16, 2018. Reviewed Aug. 12. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MINS.

Production: A 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, 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 Lawton. Executive producers, Wendy Orshan and Jeffrey M. Wilson.

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

Cast: Samantha Barks, Andy Karl, Orfeh, Eric Anderson, Jason Danieley, Ezra Knight, Allison Blackwell, Tommy Bracco, Brian Cali, Robby Clater, Jessica Crouch, Nico DeJesus, Anna Eilinsfeld, Matt Farcher, Lauren Lim Jackson, Renee Marino, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Jillian Mueller, Jake Odmark, Jennifer Sanchez, Matthew Stocke, Alex Michael Stoll, Alan Wiggins, Jesse Wildman Foster, Darius Wright.

More Legit

  • Broadway-Breakfast-Split

    Variety to Celebrate Second Business of Broadway Breakfast With Thomas Schumacher, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody

    Variety has announced the lineup for its second annual Business of Broadway breakfast presented by City National Bank. Joining the breakfast on Oct. 7 is the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, who will take part in the event’s keynote conversation. In his position, Thomas oversees the company’s worldwide stage productions, which [...]

  • Sue Wagner John Johnson

    Tony-Winning Producers Sue Wagner and John Johnson Announce New Venture, Wagner Johnson Productions

    Sue Wagner and John Johnson, seven-time Tony award-winning producers, announced Wednesday that they have embarked on a new theatrical business venture, Wagner Johnson Productions. Under the name, they will produce and general manage a wide scope of theater productions. One of Wagner Johnson Productions’ current projects is a musical rendition of “Almost Famous,” which will [...]

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content