Interview: Olivia Valli of PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL at Saenger Theatre

Pretty Woman: The Musical runs October 4-9 at the Saegner Theatre in New Orleans.

By: Oct. 03, 2022
Interview: Olivia Valli of PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL at Saenger Theatre
Adam Pascal as Edward Lewis and Olivia Valli as Vivian Ward. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The national tour of PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL lands at the Saenger Theatre, running October 4 through October 9. The beloved '90s rom-com directed by Garry Marshall comes to the stage with some updates, musical twists and a lot of love.

Based on the 1990 movie starring Julie Roberts, PRETTY WOMAN is a modern-day fairy tale where a powerful businessman hires Vivian Ward (played by Olivia Valli) a sex worker he meets while visiting Los Angeles to pretend to be his girlfriend. The story may be the same, but according to Valli, the plot is stronger and gives more agency to the title character. sat down with Valli to talk about her tenure as Vivian, the original score by Grammy winner Bryan Adams and what surprises may be in store for lovers of the film. Tell us a bit about your musical theatre background.

Valli: I actually had no background in musical theatre until high school. I only knew about WICKED, HAIRSPRAY and RENT. I picked musical theatre because I was doing GYPSY and playing Mama Rose 50 years too young, but I loved being able to tell a story and have people be swept up in it and love it. That's when I decided to audition for school. I only auditioned for one because I didn't have the money to audition for tons of schools. I got accepted and received my BFA in Musical Theatre at Montclair State University. Then a year later, I booked my first job ever. It was my dream show, WICKED, and I covered Elphaba for three years. Being able to go on and play my dream role was something I could have never imagined. I then went on to play my own grandmother, Mary Delgado, in JERSEY BOYS. After things began to open up after the pandemic, I then booked PRETTY WOMAN.

BWW: What drew you to audition for PRETTY WOMAN initially?

Valli: Realistically it was one of my first auditions back. I wanted to get back into auditioning and get a feel for what it was like again, so I went in with no expectations. I initially auditioned for Kit, and after my callback, the team asked me to audition for Vivian, and then that's when I realized I had to tell this story.

BWW: Can you talk about your journey with the role of Vivian? During your tenure, was there anything you learned about yourself by performing this role?

Valli: Vivian and I are very similar. We see the good in others, we had tough upbringings but choose joy, we are strong women who won't tolerate disrespect to ourselves or anyone else, and we know what we want, and we go get it. We also lead with kindness. Through playing Vivian, I learned how strong I am. It can be tough leading a company, and it can be tough balancing work life and real life. I have learned how to advocate for myself, learned how to stick up for myself, and I have learned how to push on even though things in my personal life were not ideal.

On the other hand, I learned how to trust myself, and that who I am is enough on and offstage. Vivian goes through a journey of finding herself and becoming a woman in the show, and I feel like I was on that journey as well. Now when I sing the line "this is who I am," I can't go back, it feels true and like a statement for Vivian and myself.

BWW: A new generation will be experiencing this musical but probably have never seen the film. How would you describe the narrative? The show is a bit more stylized, correct?

Valli: The narrative fits for a stronger perspective, and it's told more through a fairy tale lens. We have a character called the Happy Man/ Mr. Thompson, and he is the fairy godfather who ties the entire story together. It's a new element from the movie but perfectly fits a more modern fairy tale. Vivian's narrative is much stronger and reminds the audience that she deserves respect and basic human decency regardless of her line of work. The show is more stylized and more heightened through the emphasis on comedy. I mean, it's a Jerry Mitchell show! He's a comedy genius and has an eye for how to uplift a show and make it light and fun while also having heart.

BWW: Are there any major differences from the film?

Valli: Audience members see more fleshed-out characters. We get to see the inner workings of our characters, and we see that they all have a dream and that everyone deserves to see their dream fulfilled.

BWW: Let's talk about Bryan Adams who did the score. There are some definite power ballads, I imagine.

Absolutely. Act two mainly consists of rock ballads. They are amazing. I love singing "I Can't Go Back," which is like a true '80s power rock ballad that affirms that Vivian is a changed woman. I think the most impressive ballad in the show is "You and I." Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance find a way to put an opera and a rock song together and make it work beautifully. I think out of all the songs in the show, that might be one of the best songs in the show to show the artfulness and creativity of the two of them.

BWW: Speaking of singers, what are some words of wisdom your grandfather bestowed upon you for an entertainment career?

Valli: He told me talent comes and goes, but your character stays forever. People will always remember how you treat them and to always treat people well. The first thing people talk about is your reputation and character; if you lead with genuine kindness, that will take you far.

BWW: Favorite moments/memories you'd like to share?

Valli: I have a couple, but the one that sticks out to me the most was our opening night in LA. We played at the Dolby, where Julia Roberts won her Oscar for best actress in PRETTY WOMAN, and the Dolby is on Hollywood Boulevard. So, it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a pretty woman in LA, on Hollywood boulevard, at the Dolby.

BWW: What advice would you bestow on someone who wishes to break into performing?

Valli: Training and learning never end. There will always be a way to improve your talents but most importantly, treat everyone well. Treat everyone with decency and remember that the shows we do are on borrowed time so enjoy every minute of it.

Pretty Woman: The Musical runs October 4-9 at the Saegner Theatre in New Orleans.

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