Welcome to Rodeo Drive! The cast of Pretty Woman: The Musical features rising star of stage & screen Samantha Barks and three-time Tony Award nominee & Olivier Award winner Andy Karl, who take on the iconic roles of Vivian and Edward, made famous in the hit 1990 movie by Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, of course. The musical adaptation not only features a book by the late great Garry Marshall (who directed the movie) and J.F. Lawton (who wrote the screenplay), but it also boasts original music by Grammy Award-winning superstar Bryan Adams, along with his longtime songwriting partner Jim Vallance.
90's nostalgia is running wild at the Nederlander Theatre and if you're a die-hard fan of this musical's celebrated source material, you'll be pleased to hear that this stage adaptation has stayed clear of messing with the sacred. Even many of the classic Julia Roberts outfits are given identical (or at least strikingly similar) replicas, worn with gusto by Samantha Barks, and those iconic (cinematic) moments are reborn to the delight of the audience at each performance. From the playful snapping shut of the jewelry box to the delivery of the "Big mistake! Big! Huge!" line, there is an unmistakable electricity in the auditorium, whenever a shared moment of recognition brings the entire audience together as one. But this is live theatre, after all, and not cinema, and in director Jerry Mitchell's slick production, the theatricality comes in the form of our special guide through this Los Angeles love story. "Welcome to Hollywood" sings our Happy Man from the getgo and we are reassured we're in safe hands. Not only does he pop up sporadically throughout the performance but also (with a knowing wink to the audience) slips into the roles of the hotel manager Mr. Thompson (as well as a jazz pianist and opera conductor to boot). As a theatrical device, he is the conscience of the piece and our welcomed companion.
Andy Karl does a sublime job of bringing an empathetic quality to the potentially unlikeable character of Edward and, as the musical progresses, we discover that it is Edward's journey of self-discovery that holds the most weight. This is not merely a rags-to-riches tale of a Hollywood Boulevard sex worker, but of two human beings that rescue each other in more ways than one. Edward's business-centric mind, devoid of emotional connection and suffocating with isolation, undergoes the transformation, whereas Vivian's arc is ultimately more circumstancial.
Samantha Barks is perfect casting as our Pretty Woman, beautifully balancing toughness with vulnerability, and her vocals are crystal clear and soaring in anthemic numbers such as "I Can't Go Back". In addition, Orfeh also rousingly shows off her belting skills as Vivian's best friend, Kit De Luca, and visibly relishes her scene-stealing performance.
And then there's the infectious score by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance that boasts more than its fair share of infectious soft-rock melodies. The lyrics are simplistic without pretence, but it is the music that grasps you tightly, lets go, and strengthen its grip with the reprises. Vivian's theme "Anywhere but Here" and Edward's theme "Freedom" are prime examples.
Prior to Broadway, Pretty Woman: The Musical staged its world premiere at Chicago's Oriental Theatre for a limited 5-week engagement in the spring of 2018. Now, Broadway audiences are being asked the question: "What's Your Dream?" Maybe yours could come true with this theatrical trip to Hollywood... Once upon a Time in the 1980s...
(Photos by Matthew Murphy)