Ray Rackham reviews the musical stage adaptation of the hit film Pretty Woman directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell at the Piccadilly Theatre, London.
Pretty Woman the musical
Piccadilly Theatre, London
2 March 2020
Pretty Woman the musical, created by veterans from the worlds of music (Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance), television and film (the film’s screenwriter and director, J.F. Lawton and the late Gary Marshall); and steered by legendary Broadway Director Jerry Mitchell; opened at the Piccadilly Theatre to a palpably ecstatic first-night audience. The musical invites the audience to experience the moments they loved from the original 1990 film. With such a diverse pedigree behind it, can this production deal with the uneven power dynamic, anachronistically male-saviour plot, and questionable moral compass that the film so ably glossed over?
At opposite ends of the American Dream, Edward (played with great panache and charm by Danny Mac) is too rich and successful to find the time meet a girlfriend; and Vivian (the amiable Aimie Atkinson) is a prostitute with a heart of gold. We see them meet, make a $3000 dollar sexual transaction, and ultimately fall in love. Add a Svengali-type Hotel Manager (Bob Harms at his show-stealing best) who appears to be one pumpkin short of fairy Godmother, and a best friend who’s also from the wrong side of the tracks (Rachel Wooding giving her best Brooklyn as Kit) and you have a modern “Cinder-f*ckin’-Ella” story.
The creative team haven’t interrogated the problematic elements of the film, and the outcome is less a translation than a transplant. Chunks of dialogue are cloned from the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere movie, and Tom Rogers’ costume design pays more than a casual homage to the original. However, where there is change it certainly looks to address the gender imbalance, and this production is nowhere near as sanitised as it was on Broadway in 2018. In this version, it is Vivian who fights off Ryan Malloy’s would-be rapist herself, rather than waiting for Edward to save her, as the film would have it. And unlike the Broadway version, when Vivian sings (rather brilliantly, thanks to Atkinson) that she’d rather be ‘Anywhere But Here’ in Act One and that, having tasted the highlife in Act Two, she ‘Can’t Go Back’; her increased agency allows the audience believe she is at least able to go forward.
Adams and Vallance have created a score that draws inspiration from country, rock, pop and funk, tied up with a Bossanova bow of flamenco that seems to have become an Adams’ tonal trademark (the song On A Night Like Tonight particularly evokes memories of Adams’ at his most mid-nineties romantic). Edward’s There’s Something About Her is a whistful and whimsical soliloquy, sung beautifully by Mac, whilst You’re Beautiful is a soft-Rockin’ earworm. The Roy Orbison singalong at the bows is a late addition (it certainly didn’t appear at the Broadway press night) and is quite simply superfluous, belittling the show’s musical originality; however, brilliantly performed by Harms and Wooding.
Interestingly, one of the seminal moments in the movie (the scene where Vivian is truly moved by her first visit to the opera, and La Traviata) is elevated theatrically into something altogether more beautiful. The familiar scene is contained within the tuneful, lyrically beautiful and original song You And I; which simply and perfectly sums up new love. As Kimberly Blake’s jaw-droppingly precise soprano fills the theatre with the music of Giuseppe Verdi, the transformative power of this fairytale fantasy will make even the harshest critic buy into the show’s premise, if only for a moment. It is a delicious slice of musical brilliance, deft staging and assured performance, and on its own merit proves that this musical delivers considerably.
Maybe it is a 2020 yearning for nostalgia; or the fact that in capitulating to not address the thematic problems, the creative team have actually created moments of beauty that embrace our need to re-trace. Either way, Pretty Woman is a neatly packaged and affectionate love letter to the Hollywood movie, and is sure to be a crowd-pleasing hit.
Pretty Woman the musical is playing at the Piccadilly Theatre until 2 January 2021