Broadway’s “Pretty Woman” Musical Brings Freshness to Familiar Story

By Kevin M. Thomas

It seems there has been quite a trend in turning movies into musicals. It’s a smart thing to do as the movie has a built-in audience and oftentimes it has a soundtrack to support its fanbase.

But it’s quite a gamble to take a movie that had a triple platinum soundtrack and tons of hit songs and  bring it to Broadway with an entirely new song list. But that’s exactly what “Pretty Woman” has done and they have knocked it out of the park.

Rather than relying on its soundtrack of “It Must Have Been Love,” “Wild Women Do,” the musical of “Pretty Woman” opted to be more original and the results have paid off.

“Frozen,” a tepid retelling of the Disney movie, played it safe as they knew every kid would want to hear “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” and it would be tough to have the audience not sing a long to “Let It Go.”

But the entirely new “Pretty Woman” score, by famed Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, is fresh and not only has memorable songs and moments but all the songs advance the plot. They’ve even tied in one of the show’s signature songs into its ad campaign and started finding supporters with its trending hashtag #yourebeautiful.

The show has a impressive pedigree with both the creatives and the cast.

The story is very close to the movie – which it should be so there isn’t a riot in the theatre. A few changes are actually welcome, in particular, the dialog in a late scene between Vivian (Samantha Barks) and Stuckey (Jason Danieley).  It’s also impressive to set up the time period in one line uttered at the beginning of the show. Its faithfulness is likely due as the book is by the original screenplay writer J.F. Lawton and the film’s director Garry Marshall.

Their words come to beautiful life in the show – in staging and dance thanks to director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell. His work is subtle at times and awe-inspiring at others. He takes full advantage of the inventive and creative scenic design by David Rockwell and the beautiful and era-perfect costumes of Gregg Barnes which completely utilize the swing staff to go from hooker to elegance in just a few moments.

The cast is also a dream.

Samantha Barks isn’t a household name – yet – but American’s might remember her big beautiful voice from the movie “Les Miserables.” She also faired well in the Berkeley version of “Amelie,” which surprised me when she didn’t come to Broadway with that show. She also surprises with her real, perfect American accent. Her new fans, which there likely will be loads, will be surprised she’s English. Knowing that, I was never reminded of that in performance as she sounded just like an American girl living the dream. She’s sexy and has a voice that is filled with emotion. She’s a star on the rise and one we need to follow. If you remember, Julia Roberts wasn’t a big name until “Pretty Woman” the film was released. Likely the same fate for Barks.

Andy Karl takes on the Richard Gere role and he does so with gusto. Karl is perhaps one of the most versatile and accomplished Broadway actors currently playing the Great White Way. His three Tony nominations are proof of that. But he makes the role his own and is able to sing differently than he has in other shows. This time around, his singing voice is more commanding, less vulnerable and with sometimes a slight hint to the show’s composer Adams, showcasing Adams own style and delivery. I’ve never really thought about an actor whose singing voice has the emotional level of Karl’s in this role. It seems his voice softens up a bit and becomes more vulnerable as his character looses up a bit.

Karl’s real life wife Orfeh is on hand as Bark’s best friend Kit.  Orfeh is such a hoot with great delivery, a strong presence and truly is the powerhouse vocalist of the show. Orfeh’s voice is much bigger than her tiny stature and it’s a perfect compliment to her street-wise, loud talking character.  She’s one of those performers who captivates the stage in every scene and is given some of the movie’s most famous lines that, luckily, weren’t changed for the stage production.

While those three are wondrous, the real surprise for me is Eric Anderson, who has several roles including the hotel manager. Anderson may have been in the Broadway musical “Waitress” and the film “The Greatest Showman,” but those roles were more in the background. “Pretty Woman” is a role meant for him to shine – and shine he does. He is able to change several times from man on the street to hotel manager, literally in seconds thanks to choreography. His character changes not just costumes but in appearance and voice. His work is nothing short of miraculous and is likely the fastest and funniest character changes scenes since Nancy Opel in Off-Broadway’s “The Toxic Avenger.”

I could write about every noteworthy actor but this would turn a review into a love letter. But I must add that Tommy Bracco brings life and pratfalls to every scene and Allison Blackwell does a great transformation from street walker to Opera singer!

“Pretty Woman” has taken a risk and it’s paid off in song, acting, directing and storytelling. It’s truly as pretty as the picture – and sometimes better.

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