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'Pretty Woman' review: Charismatic leads hold forgettable musical together

Courtesy of Broadway in Detroit


Gary Marshall’s beloved 1990 smash “Pretty Woman” further cemented the status of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere as mega movie stars. Produced on a shoestring budget of $14 million bucks, the romantic comedy would obliterate box office records and gross almost half-a-million worldwide and stay in the pop culture conversation for the next thirty years. Which now includes an iffy musical adaptation that, akin to most movie-to-musical reconfigurations, doesn’t seamlessly mesh into the Broadway world. Taking residency at The Fisher Theater in Detroit through November 14th, the national tour of “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” to its credit, doesn’t look cheap or lack charisma. Greg Barnes' costume design is a highlight and newcomer Olivia Valli and Broadway regular Adam Pascal-who’s origination of Roger in “Rent” netted a Tony nomination-keep this wobbly fairy tale buzzing.

“Pretty Woman” was already cherished by many (you could tell by the attitudes of eager theatregoers during pre-show) and the book, by the late Marshall and J.F Lawton, along with lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance don’t undercut the heart of the story, but exists for no other reason to skate on overall goodwill and for a quick buck. We knew that, but they could have tried to conjure rhythm or catchy tunes. The show lacks a major musical showstopper, save for a sequence near the tail end of act two set at an opera that is the only inventive thing from the screen-to-stage transfer. Choreography by Jerry Mitchell, who also directed the production, doesn’t have spunk either. Then again, he’s restrained by a script built on a hollow foundation.

The show’s opener “Welcome to Hollywood,” a cheesy, obligatory acclimation into the 1990 world of “Pretty Woman,” signals early how the rest of the evening (musically) will go, but thankfully Vali and Pascal, playing Vivian and Edward respectively, carry the load, keeping the story gelling. Fans will notice several callbacks to the original, including Vivian’s black stiletto boots and blond wig, plus a snarky standoff with the pompous Rodeo Drive shop clerks. It’s tedious fan service, as the 1980s-style music fails to add depth or enhance the experience for the uninitiated. But you’ll still find yourself rooting for Vivian, a Hollywood prostitute on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills who ends up falling for Edward, a lonesome billionaire keen on shouldering his feelings and keeping things strictly transactional.

The romance in “Pretty Woman: The Musical” is hard to resist (hey, I’m only human) as is a new addition known only as “Happy Man.” Played with bountiful energy and jubilation by Kyle Taylor Parker, the Happy Man is a jack of all trades, serving as an emcee in the larger numbers and then playing an integral supporting character inside the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (smoothly swapping costumes too). However, “Pretty Woman: The Musical” coasts on the chemistry of Valli and Pascal, both charming and glowing in the quiet, intimate scenes where the clutter of the flashy and mind-numbing dance numbers subsides long enough to let them breathe.

The character progression among Vivian and Edward is compelling, and the twee awkwardness in the earlier scenes at least builds to something memorable. Pascal finds conviction (and the money notes) in Edward’s operatic ballad “Freedom” and the duet “Long Way Home” he shares alongside Valli is heartwarming. But as quickly as “Pretty Woman: The Musical” gains momentum, it’s thrown off by cringy, out-of-the-blue, songs with nameless side characters singing about “Finding Their Dreams” and subplots involving Edward’s half-defined business dealings.

This all serves as fodder to stretch the musical beyond the two-hour mark in the hopes audiences won’t notice what little exists in the script’s framework. The most inspired moment of the evening came when Pascal accidentally flubbed a line and the entire cast broke. Pascal was able to save the dramatic scene and get things back on track, a reminder of how much better he is than the material. Here’s hoping his and Valli’s next vehicle is something with a little more substance and a-lot less fluff.

PRETTY WOMEN: THE MUSICAL continues its run at The Fisher Theatre in Detroit through November 14th. Tickets can be purchased online via Ticketmaster.


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