REVIEW: "PRETTY WOMAN" — Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Updated: Aug 6, 2022
“Welcome to Hollywood! What’s Your Dream?”
Directed and choreographed as if on automatic pilot by two-time Tony Award®-winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell (“Hairspray,” “Kinky Boots,” “Legally Blonde”), “Pretty Woman: The Musical” has a book by the original film’s director, Garry Marshall (who died in 2016), and screenwriter, J.F. Lawton, and features a score by Grammy winner Bryan Adams (“Summer of ’69”, “Heaven”) and Jim Vallance with music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Will Van Dyke. Brought to you by lead producer Paula Wagner, its creators have hewed breathlessly close to the film’s story, gags and dialogue.
And what a story it is. Let me refresh your memory of that occasion. In the movie, Julia Roberts’s character, a prostitute named Vivian Ward, is going to her first opera (all too appropriately, “La Traviata”) with her date and client, Edward Lewis, played by Richard Gere, a seemingly soulless Wall Street takeover king who had earlier picked up the young hooker on Hollywood Boulevard and paid her $3,000 to be his companion for social occasions as well as in the hotel suite for a week. He introduces her to fine dining, fancy clothes, discreet makeup and the opera, while she transforms him from a cold fish into a free spirit.
She materializes with coltish grace and freshness in a red, strapless gown, and the smitten Mr. Gere presents her with a small box containing an obscenely expensive necklace. He playfully snaps it open and closed, and Ms. Roberts erupts into a spontaneous shout of laughter that totally dispels the creepy transactional haze of the scene. It was a moment of pure, movie-magic apotheosis.
For many of us who saw “Pretty Woman” when it first opened, that was the precise instant when we realized that right before our eyes we were watching a young actress turn into a transcendent, full-fledged movie star of a stripe we thought had ceased to exist. A facsimile of that red dress — and of many of the other outfits worn by Ms. Roberts, including her skimpy hooker clothes — show up in “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” taking us back to those stardust memories in time.
The biggest problem for the musical adapters in the beginning was selling an essentially tawdry tale minus Ms. Robert’s lewdness-proof, megawatt charm. Yet Olivia Valli is smashing in the part, and clearly an actress of electric presence, unsheathing her full, unsullied radiance here, and it cast a cosmetic glow on everything around her. She effectively captured the spunk and sassiness of Vivian, and even had the Julia Roberts signature hair. She is winningly seductive and the clear highlight of the production.
Adam Pascal, who played Edward, is also very convincing - handsome, poised, firm, sexy and confident - a respectful, teetotal, pleasant guy whose only discernible personality traits are a fear of heights and being a remorselessly destructive vulture capitalist, something that is vaguely intimated as being down to daddy issues, but goes unexplored. Oh, and not so great with technology. They meet when he gets lost in a neighborhood where the sex trade is plied. He needs more than directions because he doesn’t know how to use the manual transition in the car he borrowed.
Here, Mr. Marshall and Mr. Lawton, in retailoring the show film-to-stage, has chosen to play up the narrative’s twinkly fairy-tale aspects, which can be summed up in the lyric, “If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” Oops, that’s “Happy Talk,” from “South Pacific.” The words in “Pretty Woman,” to quote from the opening number, are “Hopes and dreams are what this town is made of/ Give it a shot, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of.”
This prescription is delivered by a character called Happy Man (Kyle Taylor Parker), who also morphs into the kindly hotel manager at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Edward takes Vivian on their first, uh, date. If you don’t recall, Mr. Parker plays Héctor Elizondo's character from the movie (among others), and was really the standout performance of the entire musical. Mr. Parker is mega-talented, vocally perfect, dances with precision, and makes us smile every time Happy Man starts to sing about those dreams.
He doesn’t have to convince Vivian, who has dreams from the outset, though she’s not quite sure what they are. Others require more persuasion, including Vivian’s wisecracking best friend, Kit De Luca (the inimitable Jessica Crouch), the cast’s most spirited, rambunctious and animated member by far, a fellow hooker who finally remembers she always wanted to be a cop. The ridiculously hilarious Bellhop/Porter Guilio, played by Trent Soyster, was also a great character that had the audience laughing every time he appeared.
The score’s many, country-tinged power ballads and by-the-numbers ditties bring to mind B-sides of Top 40 hits from the 1980s, the era in which Bryan Adams became a rock star. And they are often delivered with a straight-to-the-audience, note-holding “American Idol” earnestness, applying enough Sunset Strip chug to distance the music from generic Broadway fodder. As far as Orbison’s smash hit, “Oh Pretty Woman,” it was originally excluded from the musical, in fact, but due to public demand, the show began including the song during the curtain call beginning the summer of 2019.
Whether the setting is luxurious Beverly Hills, inside the Penthouse, the Blue Banana Club or seedy downtown Hollywood, David Rockwell’s scenes are well-crafted as they fly in from every angle without a moment’s lull, and has a kind of “Grand Hotel” friendliness overall. Kenneth Posner and Phillip S. Rosenberg’s lighting saturates everything to a vibrant sheen, even for the show’s steamier scenes, which find Vivian in a series of cleavage-enhancing bras and slips.
Many in the supporting cast brings sizzle to the show, including a brilliant Matthew Stocke who hits the mark precisely as Edward’s unsavory lawyer, Philip Stuckey. Christian Brailsford also triumphs as David Morse in his national tour debut. Mr. Brailsford’s resume includes bringing the iconic villain of Scar to life in “The Lion King” at Disney Hong Kong. Notable performances are Natalie Bourgeois as Rachel, Anju Cloud as both Amanda and Scarlett, Carissa Gaughran as Erica, Jonathan Young as Fred and Joshua Kenneith Allen Johnson as Senator Adams. But, some of the loudest clapping comes when Amma Osei, the soprano performing Violetta in “La Traviata,” sings her character’s farewell declaration of love.
Yes, there is plenty of appeal with “Pretty Woman.” It’s an old-school feelgood Cinderella and Prince Charming fantasy. In the original, much of the humor was fish-out-of-water stuff: when Edward tells Vivian to get rid of her gum, she spits it on the ground. Here, the jokes are more often on Edward and his inability to have normal, human relationships with others. From the beginning, this Vivian is whip-smart, strong and soulful — and she makes it clear that she's been working the streets only for a short time, and that it was a mistake. She's a character we can cheer for without reservation. Like "Waitress," it's a musical about a woman finding herself. And this Vivian certainly deserves to be found.
SEGERSTROM CENTER FOR THE ARTS PRESENTS – “PRETTY WOMAN THE MUSICAL” NATIONAL TOUR. Based on the Touchtone Picture written by J.F. LAWTON; Book by GARRY MARSHALL & J.F. LAWTON; Music & Lyrics by BRYAN ADAMS & JIM VALLANCE; Music Supervision, Arrangements and Orchestrations by WILL VAN DYKE; Directed and Choreographed by JERRY MITCHELL; Associated Choreographer RUSTY MOWERY; Associate Director DB BONDS; Scenic Design by DAVID ROCKWELL; Lighting Design by KENNETH POSNER & PHILIP S. ROSENBERG; Sound Design by JOHN SHIVERS; Costume Design by GREGG BARNES; Hair Design by JOSH MARQUETTE; Makeup Design by FIONA MIFSUD; Music Director DANIEL KLINTWORTH; Fight Director J. ALLEN SUDDETH; Production Supervisor THOMAS RECKTENWALD; Technical Supervisor FULL STAGE PRODUCTIONS; Production Stage Manager RL CAMPBELL.
WITH: OLIVIA VALLI, ADAM PASCAL, JESSICA CROUCH, KYLE TAYLOR PARKER, MATTHEW STOCKE, CHRIS MANUEL, CARISSA GAUGHRAN, NATALIE BOURGEOIS, TRENT SOYSTER, MICHAEL DALKE, JOSHUA KENNETH ALLEN JOHNSON, BRENT THEISSEN, JONATHAN YOUNG, ANJU CLOUD, CHRISTIAN BRAILSFORD, AMMA OSEI, NELLA COLE, KAYLEE OLSON, ALICE REYS, JONATHAN RITTER, KEYONNA KNIGHT, EM HADICK, GRAHAM KEEN, DEVON MCCLESKEY, HILLARY PORTER.
PRETTY WOMAN will run through Sunday, July 17th; Running time approximately 2 hours and 24 minutes; Performances will be Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30PM and Saturdays at 2:00PM and 7:30PM; Sundays at 1:00PM and 6:30PM at Segerstrom Hall. Tickets can be purchased by visiting https://www.scfta.org/events/2022/pretty-woman-the-musical
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade