Review: ‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ at Nederlander Theatre

By Jonathan Spira on 24 August 2018
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The adaptation of films to the stage, especially for blockbusters such as the 1990 film “Pretty Woman,” is a challenge.  Stepping into the shoes, or at least into the red dress that Julia Roberts wore in the movie that propelled her into stardom, in “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” which opened Thursday night on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre, shows how difficult such adaptations can be.

If you haven’t seen the film in a while, let me briefly recap: it’s a romantic comedy in which neophyte prostitute Vivian Ward (Samantha Barks) is hired by the very rich and very wooden businessman Edward Lewis (Andy Karl), first just to talk and later on to accompany him to multiple events. Over the course of a week the two fall in love as Lewis plays Pygmalion to Ward’s Eliza, dressing her for an Ascot-like polo game and not for the Embassy Ball but for her first opera, “La Traviata,” the choice of which wasn’t a coincidence.

Were it not for what seemed to be almost a line-for-line recitation of the movie’s lines, I’m quite sure Ms. Barks, who so splendidly portrayed Eponine in the movie version of “Les Mis,” would shine, but alas, the confines of the role leave her little room to break past the confines of that red dress, the movie’s original lines, gags, and weaknesses.

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David Rockwell’s sets worked well to transport theatergoers from a seedy corner of Hollywood Boulevard to the plush lobby and rooms of the Beverly Wilshire and back again, and our escort on this trip is a character by the name of Happy Man (played earnestly by Eric Anderson), who starts off by telling the audience, “Hopes and dreams are what this town is made of / Give it a shot, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of.” The multi-talented Anderson is transformed into the hotel’s kindly general manager as well as into the band leader at the hotel’s restaurant, the latter via a cameo appearance as he rises from beneath the stage, baton in hand.

The 1990s-look costumes by Gregg Barnes were authentic enough to remind us why we don’t dress like that any more.

As the movie, I mean the show, continues, we see the transformation of Edward from someone who screws people for a living (to borrow from the script) to a far more caring and romantic person who will even violate his own rule about kissing someone on the lips.

Perhaps the problem with “Pretty Woman: The Musical” is best illustrated by the fact that the real showstopper is the opera-within-a-play, when the character of Violetta, performed so beautifully by soprano Allison Blackwell, performed her farewell aria.

None of these issues will likely stop tourists (the mainstay of Broadway shows) and fans of the movie from seeing the show, however, but it’s about as close to having the movie play with live characters as it could possibly get.

Oh, oh, pretty woman.

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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