BWW Review: PRETTY WOMAN, Piccadilly Theatre
A stage adaptation of Pretty Woman makes a lot of sense. It's possibly one of the most beloved movies of its time, with its iconic costumes and quotable one-liners...and it propelled the ever-popular Julia Roberts into superstardom.
The book by Garry Marshall (director of the aforementioned movie) and screenwriter LF Lawton received mixed reviews on Broadway, but the chemistry between our very own Samantha Barks and Broadway alumnus Andy Karl in the signature roles was praised. With a move across the Atlantic to London's Piccadilly Theatre, does this production fare any better?
In a word: yes. This is in no small part to the excellent casting, which offers us Danny Mac (theatre aficionados will remember him from his early days in Wicked...others, from his stint in Hollyoaks or Strictly Come Dancing) as Edward Lewis, the billionaire who stumbles across the fiery Vivian, played expertly by Aimie Atkinson.
Now, let's talk about Aimie Atkinson for a moment, shall we? Atkinson was most recently seen originating the role of Katherine Howard in SIX at the Arts Theatre. Her charisma and strong belt were a powerful combination there, but in Pretty Woman, she is able to display the breadth of her talent.
She is both ingénue and warrior. Having proved her chops in eight shows a week at SIX, she has the experience and accomplishments to pull off a powerful and feisty leading lady role, but still has a fresh energy about her that taps into the naïve, childlike parts of Vivian. Atkinson is pure sunshine.
Another much-beloved character in the Pretty Woman movie is Vivian's best friend Kit de Luca, and Rachael Wooding is an inspired choice. Wooding proved her rocker capabilities repeatedly in We Will Rock You, and her vocals are the perfect fit for Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance's score.
The score itself has some standout moments, primarily in the form of Vivian's breakout solo "I Can't Go Back", but most of it is not particularly memorable. One can't quite imagine hoards of theatregoers downloading the cast recording, which is ultimately a combination of pop-rock ballads that have no real hook.
Much has been made in the media of how a 90s film would translate onto the stage for a modern audience, and I am inclined to err in favour of the production on this one. Certain iconic scenes have been reimagined to put Vivian in a position of power, rather than being submissive, and there's a particularly delightful dance break (led by the absolutely glorious Bob Harms as the hotel manager, among other roles) featuring a same-sex tango which shouldn't be revolutionary to witness...but it is important to note.
Is the book formulaic? Yes, rather - this show won't move mountains, shake emotions or win awards. But it hits a sweet spot that the average theatregoer is looking for.
The costume and staging has been considered carefully, and all adds to the tasteful handling of some of the more provocative scenes, which could easily come across as crude if presented in any other way.
This production has been designed for a fanbase that has existed for decades, and which expects particular lines, costumes and scenes that replicate the movie. Pretty Woman does all of that unapologetically, and combined with the joy of witnessing a star like Aimie Atkinson ascend to greatness, this show is a sure-fire hit. It's just a shame that the score can't quite live up to the same high standards.