Not every movie or story needs to be made into a musical, and Pretty Woman the Musical is an example of why. Now playing at the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square, this music-backed take on the 1990 movie starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere loses charm and depth when placed into this new format.
The story follows down-on-her-luck Hollywood hooker Vivian Ward (played by Olivia Valli) as she’s swept up from the street by always-working millionaire Edward Lewis (played on review night by understudy Chris Manuel). He offers her a seemingly simple proposition: stay with him for the whole week. Vivian is put up in a fancy hotel, she gets a brand-new wardrobe, she meets Edward’s judgmental friends, does some soul-searching, and somewhere in high-price call girl transaction they fall for each other – world be damned!
Although Valli has a nice voice, her Vivian is mostly comprised of big facial expressions and lots of back-and-forth movement on the stage. It’s almost too big at times – perhaps this is to play against the low-key, stoic and lackluster energy Manuel brings to Edward in his understated performance. Another okay voice, but he doesn’t have any big “wow” moments, and the chemistry between these two leads is lacking.
The surprises of the production are the secondary performers, who steal the show and win audience hearts. Kyle Taylor’s performance as Happy Man is joyful and smooth, inviting and confident. “Welcome to Hollywood” and “Never Give Up On A Dream” are enjoyable pieces, well-performed by this dynamic singer. Jessica Crouch’s presence as best friend Kit is big, bold, and energetic. She has some great pipes on her and can really belt it out (i.e. “Rodeo Drive”). A revelation of the show comes from Dance Captain Nico DeJesus filling in as Giulio for the night of the review. To say DeJesus sparkles is an understatement – his energy and 110% vitality steal the show in each scene, even if it is for a short moment. And the absolute vocal highlight is Amma Osei’s heartwrenching and commanding performance as Violetta in the opera section of “You and I” – her voice is transcendent.
The script is rather flat, and deficient in substance. The movie characters are multi-layered with fantastic inner lives – the audience cares about the leads and is invested in them, making the happy-ever-after ending so wonderful. The stage version doesn’t really invite the spectators deep enough to really connect with anything other than caricatures. The “necklace scene” from the movie comes out as nothing more than goofy and trying-too-hard, for example. All the talk of “wanting more” and having “future dreams” seems insincere. This seems odd, given that the show runs for 2 hours and 30 minutes – plenty of time for character development.
With a book by Garry Marshall and J. F. Lawton, and music by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, the score is full of agreeable pop music, most of which is entertaining but forgettable. The costumes and hair are a fun trip back into the 1980s (mullets), and the choreography is lively.
It’s not a bad evening, but if you’re looking for the warmth and magic of the movie, the musical version of this show is not quite there. Pretty Woman the Musical is a peppy piece of theater with fine talent, serving as a good diversion from the outside world (COVID-19, war, and general life chaos). If you’re looking for a fluffy distraction – you’ve got it here.
Tickets / Information: www.playhousesquare.org, 216-241-6000.