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BWW Review: PRETTY WOMAN National Tour, DPAC

Song and dance can’t overcome outdated material

Pretty Woman

When the film "Pretty Woman" first came out in 1990, its narrative didn't feel quite as tired. The Cinderella story of sorts follows prostitute Vivian Ward who wealthy businessman Edward Lewis hires to be his escort to business functions for a week. Naturally, because it's a romantic comedy, the two fall in love and live happily ever after. In 2022, with a modern audience, it's harder to sell that romance, and the gender politics are harder to stomach.

The musical Pretty Woman debuted on Broadway in August 2018 and ran for a year, garnering largely negative reviews. Its book was written by Garry Marshall and J. F. Lawton, the director and writer of the film, and Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance provided music and lyrics. The book strikes a strange balance of sticking too close to the film but also trying to give it a slight women empowerment update that never really comes together.

Pretty WomanIn many ways, the musical is a poor imitation of the film with its generic musical theater pop songs and generic musical theater dance. (There is one standout dance scene in which the hotel manager Mr. Thompson teaches Vivian to ballroom dance with the help of the hotel staff.) The show tries to recreate the iconic costumes and famous lines of the movie, but the way in which the jewelry box moment falls flat seems indicative of the rest of the show.

The pipeline of popular film to Broadway musical has been popular in recent years but with varying success. While some are able to reinvent their source material, like the HEATHERS THE MUSICAL or BEETLEJUICE, others are stilted by their inability to recreate the magic of the movie on which they're based.

Where Pretty Woman falters is how it presents Vivian, who straight from the beginning tells us that "I'm really not this girl" and that she longs to be "anywhere but here." The audience is continually being told, by herself and others, that this young woman doesn't belong with the other sex workers on Hollywood Boulevard. It's a sort of icky idea: Vivian is somehow special and better than all the other women who have also become sex workers, and thus she deserves her big break.

Pretty WomanIn a world where we've watched Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos use their money for seemingly everything other than helping people, and we're more aware of the insidiousness of billionaire-level wealth, it's also more difficult to buy Edward Lewis as a romantic lead. His ruthlessness in business and inability to relax are no longer quirks to overcome but indications of the kind of capitalist economy that landed Vivian in her position in the first place.

For all of the story's flaws and the inconsistent character writing, the cast does their absolute best with the material. Olivia Valli plays an enthusiastic and high-energy Vivian, while Jessica Crouch has stunning vocals and stage presence as Kit. Kyle Taylor Parker as the Happy Man and Mr. Thompson and Trent Soyster as Guilio nailed the comedy of their roles. Adam Pascal's Edward is sure to be a draw to this tour for RENT fans, but he was unfortunately not performing on Tuesday night. However, his understudy Brent Thiessen did a solid job in the role, perfectly walking the line between sophisticated and uptight.

If you're a fan of the film and happy to overlook the narrative in favor of great vocals and flashy costumes, then Pretty Woman is a fun night at the theater. However, it mainly stands as a testament to how far we've come since 1990, when this story was considered romantic and the need to actually update films that are being adapted into musicals to make them work for modern audiences.

PRETTY WOMAN is at DPAC through April 24.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

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