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BWW Review: PRETTY WOMAN-THE MUSICAL at Shea's Buffalo

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Rehashing a Classic Doesn't Always Work

BWW Review: PRETTY WOMAN-THE MUSICAL at Shea's Buffalo
Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli in PRETTY WOMAN

Welcome to the 1980's where acid wash jeans, big hair, shoulder pads and the music of Bryan Adams pervades the air. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere were starring in the rom-com blockbuster "Pretty Woman" and audiences were enthralled. Flash forward 30 or so years and everything old is new again as PRETTY WOMAN- THE MUSICAL takes to the Broadway stage and now has set up shop in Buffalo for a week as the National tour hits Shea's Buffalo stage.

Nostalgia pervades the air but is the 80's a decade that audiences are clamoring for again. This Broadway musical had a respectable one year run on the Great White Way, but that appears mostly to the lure of the title itself. Producers surely had their sights on finding success in the touring market. The modern day fairy tale tells the Pygmalion story of a Hollywood hooker who happens to be in the right place and time to help a lost billionaire with directions. Their chance meeting leads to a one night stand followed by a one week contract for her services. The tycoon is in need of a woman on his arm for work functions while staying at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel but romance ensues despite each other's hesitations.

The retelling of this story in today's awareness of the "me too" movement has made the objectification and abuse of women all the more potentially offensive, whether told through comedy or not . Luckily the book by Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton does address these issues while maintaining the sure fire bits of humor audiences remember from the film, like the snapping jewelry box and opera outing. The additions that work best are when the musical comedy bits elevate this screenplay-like script. The new character, simply named Happy Man is played by the charming and multi talented Kyle Taylor Parker who transitions from streetwise narrator to the concierge of the hotel.

Vivian Ward is our pretty woman, played by Olivia Valli. Ms. Valli has a pleasant singing voice and a rough around the edges demeanor as she transitions from a tough girl prostitute to a polished woman. Her quirkiness can be charming and she finds humor in the awkward situations she finds herself in. Her vulnerability is evident when she is treated as a trollop in the famous shopping scene on Rodeo Boulevard and when her call girl life is exposed at a garden party. The upper reaches of the score proved to be taxing for her as pitch problems plagued her high notes.

The true star of the show is Broadway veteran Adam Pascal as the suave, no nonsense Edward Lewis. Pascal is best known for originating the role of Roger in RENT and Radames in Elton John's AIDA. His voice is remarkable in it's strength and power, only getting better with time. He captures all of the nuances of the role ranging from cold blooded business man to soft hearted lover.

As in all good rom-coms, the wise cracking side kick is obligatory and here we have Vivian's bestie, fellow hooker Kit, played by the tough as nails Jessica Crouch. Ms. Crouch gives her all in this somewhat thankless role,given the medicore tunes written for her by Adams. Most sounds like the B sides of an old 45 rpm, loud and screechy. But Crouch finds heart in her friendship with Vivian and becomes a true confidante.

The opera scene when Edward takes Vivian to a performance of La Traviata is one of the most successful sequences thanks to some creative staging by director Jerry Mitchell. Amma Osei does fine work as Violetta, providing some powerhouse operatic high notes. Edward and Vivian are propped high above the action, centerstage in an opera box, as the action unfolds all around them, and Edward sings of his newfound love for Vivian in "You and I."

Mitchell also provides the choreography which includes so many frenetic movements that it plays more like an MTV video during the street scenes. His work is more streamlined in the silly "Don't Forget to Dance" where the very fun Mr. Parker dances with the male staff of the hotel

The talented Gregg Barnes designed the costumes, but so as not to disappoint anyone, most of Vivian's looks are copies of the designs for Julia Roberts. One wishes that a little more inventiveness was placed into transferring this movie to the stage instead of carbon copies of so much. It's not until the hit tune "Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison is played during the curtain call does it appear that the show has been embraced by the audience. There will always be a soft spot for PRETTY WOMAN in everyone's collective memory, but whether a musical version was needed or not--- well, I'll leave that up to the theatre goers of 2021.

PRETTY WOMAN- THE MUSICAL plays at Shea's Buffalo theatre through December 5, 2021. Contact sheas.org for more information.


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From This Author Michael Rabice