‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ Is So Unpretty
[Full article published in The Clyde Fitch Report, August 17, 2018.]
There’s a moment early in the first act of Pretty Woman: The Musical — adapted by the late Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton from Lawton’s screenplay for the 1990 Julia Roberts film that has landed on Broadway with a neon-colored thud — that clues us into the show’s stumbling course and conflicting tone and messages.
Vivian (lovely Samantha Barks, a bit adrift), a broke, charming, joke-spewing Hollywood streetwalker, is picked up by visiting NYC corporate shark Edward (affable Andy Karl, never managing the shark part). Edward installs Vivian in his hotel penthouse for what they each expect will be an evening of negotiated romance. When Edward realizes that he can utilize this party girl as pretty arm candy for business events during the week ahead — he’s single; she’s pretty enough; she expects nothing from him — they negotiate a weekly fee that solves the problem of Vivian’s back rent. (An early draft of the film was titled Three Thousand). When Edward leaves for work the next day, Vivian calls her roommate, Kit (big-voiced Orfeh, evoking protective tomboy more than intimate friend) to come over and gawk at the fancy digs.
In the film Pretty Woman, this sequence is charming: two kids squealing with delight at bubble bath and fancy sheets. Here, the sequence is addressed by “Luckiest Girl in the World,” a number that rewrites the story with a bellhop, Giulio (flexible, energetic Tommy Bracco), executing gymnastic backflips across the stage. Like a kick line, this generates applause. But in a song meant for cash-strapped girlfriends to be amazed and delighted by the opulence all around them, they wind up shunted to the side. Basically, the creators of the show, and choreographer-director Jerry Mitchell, don’t trust that women can hold the stage.
The set up of Pretty Woman then follows the flow of the film: a Cinderella story in a Wall Street shell. From its transactional beginning, Vivian and Edward’s story evolves when Edward wises up and does the right thing with a particular deal; when Vivian heeds the advice of the hotel manager who takes an interest in her (he knows she’s a hooker but he’s beautiful and she behaves); and when Vivian dreams of becoming someone other than who she has been. In the film, Vivian and Edward share character development: Vivian dressed up and coached by the manager to “pass” at a few corporate events and coming to believe that she wants more out of life; Edward realizing that swimming with sharks isn’t everything. But the musical shifts the positioning of Vivian’s story — we don’t see it front and center with any real consistency. As written and performed by Karl, Edward is never cold enough to be a shark redeemed. Now he’s simply a man who picks up a hooker.