Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's review of Man of God
Basically, Pretty Woman is a latter day Cinderella story, set in 1980s Los Angeles. Instead of being downtrodden at the hands of a misanthropic stepmother and self-centered stepsisters, this Cinderella–with the classy sounding name Vivian Ward–is betrayed by a man who lures her from a small town in Georgia to Los Angeles and promptly dumps her. Instead of sweeping out fireplaces and scrubbing he floors, she is reduced to selling her body by the hour on Hollywood Boulevard. And instead of having to be home from the Prince's ball by midnight, she has a whole week to hope that enchantment will change her life.
Actually, it is not enchantment, but a crass business arrangement that knocks at her door. Edward Lewis is a billionaire corporate raider who buys companies on the brink of collapse and cashes in by selling their assets. In LA on business for a week, he accidentally crosses paths Vivian's path–he was not in want of a hook-up, only directions to his hotel. Seeing Edward struggle with the manual clutch on his borrowed luxury car, Vivian offers to drive him to the hotel–for a fee. The drive becomes an hour of Vivian's time up in the penthouse suite, which becomes the entire night, and then the week, to play the "role" of Edward's date at the various social functions that accompany his business agenda.
The movie, directed by the late Garry Marshall, who co-wrote the musical's book with screenplay writer J.F. Lawton, launched its own "pretty woman," Julia Roberts, to stardom and broke the record for tickets sold by a romantic comedy, so there is a good chance you are familiar with the story. Even if you are not, the setup and tone give us assurance from the opening scene that, like any Cinderella story worth its fairy dust, this one will have a happy ending.
What makes this more interesting than the old school fairy tale is that it's not just about a girl whose dream comes true, but also about a guy discovering a dream that had been submerged beneath a sea of childhood unhappiness, cordoned off by a quest for acquisition that brought no happiness. When Vivian learns that Edward never steps out on his penthouse balcony due to his fear of heights, she asks why he bothers staying in the penthouse. He answer: "because it's the best." Whether it makes him happy or not, he must stake his claim at the top. At least Vivian always knew what she wanted. Edward actually goes through a sea change, discovering possibilities for happiness that had been beyond his ken.
Thus, we have the sentimental, albeit highly unlikely, payoff. Of course, fairy-tale endings are always unlikely. That's why we love them. What some observers may not like at all is the impression the show gives–as did the movie–that the life of a hooker working LA's red light district is not so bad. Sure, the ladies wish they could be doing something else, but we don't catch a whiff of abusive pimps, drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, arrests, and the other unsavory aspects of "the life" or the challenges faced by those who try to give it up. We don't see hookers working to cover their bruises with makeup. Don't go to Pretty Woman expecting a hard look at prostitution, or any other social issues. Think "it's just a fairy tale" and you'll be all right.
And, as Broadway fairy tales go, Pretty Woman has a lot going for it, starting with Vivian Ward, who is refreshingly blunt, lacking in inhibitions, quick-witted, and tender hearted. Olivia Valli brings out all of these qualities, along with the requisite physical beauty, a compelling physical presence on stage, and a strong, clear voice that delivers her songs nicely, wistful in "Anywhere But Here," deeply moving in "This Is My Life," and knocking it out of the park with her eleven o'clock number, "I Can't Go Back." Edward is more a Frog Prince than a Prince Charming, though handsome as all get out–especially in the person of Adam Pascal, famed for leads in the original casts of Rent and Aida, who subbed as Edward for several weeks on Broadway before taking on the national tour. The frog aspect of Edward is his cold-blooded outlook toward life and his inability to commit to anything other than getting the upper hand. The hidden prince emerges, and Pascal presents this persuasively in a series of songs–"Something About Her," "Freedom," and his own eleven o'clock number, "You and I." Each one shows Edward shedding a bit more of his armor and becoming a warm-blooded, feeling human, and Pascal knows how to deliver from the heart.
There are winning supporting roles matched by smashing performances. Jessica Crouch understudied the role of Kit De Luca on Broadway and now claims it as her own, Kit is Vivian's best friend, who sort of saved Vivian when she was down on her luck by breaking her in to life as a hooker. Kit is a big, brassy presence with a mound of blonde hair piled upon her head, and Crouch brings her winningly to life, with a couple of big musical numbers of her own, especially when she heads out for some luxe shopping on "Rodeo Drive." Matthew Stocke is convincingly sleazy as Edward's lawyer, Phillip Stuckey, who eggs on Edward's nefarious deal-making.
A character you won't see in the movie, Happy Man, acts as an emcee of sorts, leading with the opening "Welcome to Hollywood" and returning to implore the denizens of Hollywood Boulevard to "Never Give Up on a Dream." Kyle Taylor Parker takes on this role, combined with the hotel manager who first takes offense at Vivian's unseemly presence in his ritzy hotel, but later is charmed by her and becomes her champion. Parker's transition between these two roles is seamless, delivering Happy Man's street smarts and the manager's staunch dignity with equal panache. Parker shines in dance numbers in both guises, drawing the biggest applause of the night in a tango with Nico De Jesus, as a diminutive but charismatic bellboy. De Jesus actually steals the show whenever he is on stage, in part due to his own charm and in part due to the very funny stage business devised by director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell. Mitchell, whose other shows include The Full Monty, Hairspray, Kinky Boots, and Legally Blonde, is second to none at whipping together shows with strong storylines, humor, heart, and strong dance numbers.
The songs for Pretty Woman are by rock star Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. This is Adams' first go at a musical, and he has turned out songs with a strong pop feeling that work well within the context of the storyline and characters emotions–which is what we want in a musical. One or two could even conceivably earn a life independent of this show. "I Can't Go Back" come closest.
The design team has created a show that is always visually engaging, starting with Gregg Barnes' array of flashy costumes, from skimpy bits for the hookers to cocktail party glamour to night-at-the-opera elegance. David Rockwell's set eschews flashy gimmick, using a series of drop-down frames to effectively creative the various settings. Kenneth Posner and Philip S. Rosenberg provide lighting that accentuates the tone of each scene, from raucous to intimate. Kudos also to Daniel Klintworth who conducts a sharp-sounding six-piece band that delivers the pop beat of the score with aplomb.
Pretty Woman is heaped full of entertaining elements: a good story with laughs and heart, pulsating music, powerhouse performances, lively dance, and swell design work. It will work best as a pure entertainment, without seeking anything deep, probing, or eye opening. Just go, enjoy, and take whatever comfort you can from seeing a Cinderella and a Frog Prince realize their dreams.
Pretty Woman runs through February 27, 2022, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $40 - $146. Educator and Student Rush Tickets available for all performances, $30, cash only, limit of two tickets per ID. For ticket and performance information call 612-339-7007 or go to hennepintheatretrust.org. For more information on the tour, visit tour.prettywomanthemusical.com/.
Book: Garry Marshall & J.F. Lawton, based on the motion picture written by J.F, Lawton; Music and Lyrics * : Bryan Adams & Jim Vallance; Director and Choreographer: Jerry Mitchell; Scenic Design: David Rockwell; Costume Design: Greg Barnes; Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner & Philip S. Rosenberg; Sound Design: John Shivers; Hair Design: Josh Marquette; Makeup Design: Fiona Mifsud; Music Supervision, Arrangements and Orchestrations: Will Van Dyke; Music Director and Conductor: Daniel Klintworth; Associate Director: DB Bonds; Associate Choreographer: Rusty Mowery; Fight Director: J. Allen Suddeth; Casting: The Telsey Office, Craig Burns, C.S.A.; Production Stage Manager: Jack McLeod; Stage Manager: RL Campbell, Assistant Stage Manager: Leslie S. Allen.
Cast: Anju Cloud (Amanda/Scarlett/ensemble), Nella Cole (ensemble), Jessica Crouch (Kit DeLuca), Michael Dalke (ensemble), Nico De Jesus (Giulio/ensemble), Christian Douglas (Fred/Alfredo/ensemble), Alex Gibbs (David Morse/ensemble), Joshua Kenneth Allen Johnson (Senator Adams/ensemble), Chris Manuel (landlord/ensemble), Alexa Xioufaridou Moster (Rachel/ensemble), Kaylee Olson (ensemble), Amma Osei (Violetta/ensemble), Kyle Taylor Parker (Happy Man), Adam Pascal (Edward Lewis), Jonathan Ritter (ensemble), Matthew Stocke (Philip Stuckey), Becca Suskauer (Susan/Erica/ensemble), Brent Thiessen (ensemble), Olivia Valli (Vivian Ward), Bria J. Williams (ensemble).
* "Oh, Pretty Woman" written by Roy Orbison and Bill Dees.