Saturday, September 1, 2018

Review of "Pretty Woman"

Is the new musical, Pretty Woman, a great musical?  No, but, at times, it’s a captivating and charming adaptation of the iconic film. 
Andy Karl and Samantha Barks from "Pretty Woman."
As with the Richard Gere/Julia Roberts movie, the story introduces Edward Lewis (Andy Karl), a workaholic billionaire that buys up distressed companies only to turn around and sell off the assets for huge profits.  By chance, he meets Vivian Ward (Samantha Barks), a gorgeous hooker on Hollywood Boulevard and, through some implausible plot twists, hires her to be his weeklong companion while he conducts business in Los Angeles.  After some false starts, a touch of meddling and prying from friends and colleagues, and a dash of more improbable incidents, romance blossoms and a fairytale ending is secured.

The book of the musical by the movie’s director Garry Marshall and its screenwriter J.F. Lawton follows the film’s plot and scenarios much too closely.  Most successful movie to musical transformations need to reinterpret the celluloid version, avoiding a strict rote presentation, which the creators have effected too often here.  The romantic and fanciful storyline that incorporates a hint of Pygmalion and essence of Cinderella has always been hard to swallow, especially in its sanitized view of prostitution.  However, the public has not seemed to mind as it has responded enthusiastically to the whole contrivance.

The score by 80’s rocker Bryan Adams and his longtime songwriting collaborator Jim Vallance is a mix of power pop confections and more conventional Broadway melodies.  There are enough hooks and well-crafted numbers to satisfy an audience seeking original, appealing songs.

Samantha Barks and the cast of "Pretty Woman."

The chemistry between the central cast members Andy Karl and Samantha Barks is the strength of the show.  They look good together, feel natural, are frisky and sexy.  Andy Karl, who has been in a number of recent movie to musical creations (Rocky, Groundhog Day), is charismatic, playful, and debonair as the extremely successful businessman, Edward Lewis.  At times, though, he is too laid backed and unbothered.  The steeliness and central focus of someone so intent on profits is missing, which undermines the overall impact of his character.  Ms. Barks is a stunner with a powerful voice.  Within the constraints of a musical comedy the actress is able to convey a diverse array of emotions as she sets forth on her life-changing journey.

The supporting players—Eric Anderson as the Happy Man and, more importantly, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel manager Mr. Thomapson; Opreh as Vivian’s best friend Kit; and Tommy Bracco as the bellhop Giulo—are all superb and handsomely complement the production.

Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell seems to play it safe with too few innovations or modifications from the source material.  It is a tricky road to travel—how much of a transformation to impose on a beloved film as it is reconceptualized for the Broadway stage?  With only a few embellishments and adjustments the show does not achieve its full potential.

Pretty Woman, a pure delight for fans of the movie, but more pedestrian for the rest of us.

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