Pretty Woman-The Musical
At the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street
BS Score Rating: C-
Show-Score Rating: 60
If there is a full blown example of mediocrity on Broadway these days, it has to be “Pretty Woman” at the Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street. This musical adaptation of the ever-popular 1990 film starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts holds pretty close to the plot of the original. This is not surprising since the original writer, J. F. Lawton, collaborated with the late Garry Marshall, the film’s director, on the book for the stage. The program acknowledges Marshall’s “passion to make it a Broadway musical because he loved live theatre.”
But as any number of flops, and near flops, adaptions of popular movies into a musical of late have illustrated, that transfer is very tricky. The best transfers reconceive the original, finding ways to draw the audience into the story and telling that story with inventive music, choreography, and design. On the surface, “Pretty Woman” has a creative team fully capable of delivering that innovation. Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell brought us the revival of “La Cage aux Foiles” and “Kinky Boots,” both appealing and surprisingly imaginative adaptations from the cinema. For the recent revival of “She Loves Me,” set designer David Rockwell gave us one of the most charming designs for a Broadway revival in recent memory. Similarly, costumer designer Gregg Barnes has a long list of successful meldings of period and character into wardrobes that help us appreciate the person in the clothes.
But to make a musical production rise above competence, there needs to be a chemistry among all of those elements and “Pretty Woman” lacks even a whiff of that mixture of imagination and creativity. The story is a sort of Cinderella meets heartless capitalist. Vivian is an abused woman from Georgia who resorts to selling her body on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. By chance, she meets Edward, a handsome, seeming amoral businessman who buys out failing companies regardless of any concern for the human toll. By the end of the show, we are expected to believe that Vivian has gone through an Eliza Doolittle transformation and Edward has come to see his need to be a human businessman. And why do these miraculous changes take place? Because each of these “love at almost first sight” opposites see something in each other that transforms them.
The only problem is the script never really lets the audience in on what it is about their attraction to each other that produced these changes. In fact, it never even reveals what it is they see in each other except “that something.” Plenty of musicals use love as a source for transformation, but the good ones show us what is in their attraction to each other and how that changes them. In “Pretty Woman” it just happens, no “ifs ands or buts.” To be fair, many of the songs in Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance’s pleasantly pop-style score, show the two leads questioning who they are and what they are doing. But the book never shows us how those questions lead to their inevitable love for each other.
In the age of “me too” and the questions surrounding the portrait of women in classics like “My Fair Lady” and “Carousel,” it’s rather disturbing that this portrayal of prostitution in the dregs of Hollywood comes off like production numbers by the citizens of Dogpatch
in “Li’l Abner” – yes, these people are “different,” but joyful. Ugh! The effete prejudices of the Beverly Hills culture are treated no more insightfully. Edward’s associates in corporate destruction are portrayed like Sky Masterson’s thug-associates in “Guys and Dolls” – “Where’s the game?”
The sets are merely functional. David Rockwell has chosen to portray most of the settings with skeletal outlines– except for the required palm trees that, you guessed it, light up every so often to remind us we’re in SoCal. There is no connection in the style of the various set wagons that float onto the stage. For a city like Los Angeles, that has its own “look,” there is little to connect us with the styles of the entertainment capital except for the requisite rear view of the Hollywood sign that acts as the curtain warmer.
Mitchell’s choreography is probably the most disappointing. It’s filled with conga lines and faux 80’s disco. Perhaps the most disquieting choreographic element is the very strange ballroom dancers in the background as Edward and Vivian watch the performance of “La Traviata” from an opera house box seat – a memorable moment from the movie that sticks out like a sore thumb in this stage adaptation.
Both of the leads do everything they can to make their characters credible without a script that reveals why they are attracted to each other and how that attraction transforms them. Eric Anderson is quite ingratiating as the combination “Happy Man” and hotel manager. Orfeh, as Kit De Luca, Vivian’s best friend and counsel, presses a little too hard as the experienced hard-line lady of the streets making her transformation into a vice squad intern at the end of the show down-right silly. Tommy Bracco in the minor part of the bell-boy (and one of the street people on Hollywood Blvd) brings a smile to his antics that is one of the few consistently humorous elements of the show.
“Pretty Woman” has been doing very well at the box-office and, like “Mean Girls,” the fans of the movie may assure it of a reasonable run. But what was once charming and engaging in the movie theatre has become mediocre and bland in the Broadway theatre.