Of the 26 musicals playing the Main Stem, as of mid-August, 11 were based on movies and TV shows. The latest, Pretty Woman: The Musical, breaks no new ground at the Broadway bijou, but like vivacious Vivian, the gold-hearted prostitute of the title, it takes your money agreeably enough. Depending on where you choose to sit, that works out to about $300 per hour, but fear not for your wallet: Samantha Barks, a winsome Eponine in the big screen Les Miz, has a big smile and sassy attitude to rival Julia Roberts’, and steps nicely into the black thigh-high boots immortalized in the star-making sensation of 1990.
The format proves to be a decent fit for a rom-com that always perplexed me. Why does Edward, an emotionally constipated corporate raider whose warmest relationship is with his outsized mobile phone, hire the naïve but forthright Vivian right off Hollywood Boulevard to be his girlfriend for the week while he descends upon a proud family-owned business? The answer is that he’s Richard Gere and she’s Julia Roberts, and they look great together trading quips and learning that money can’t buy happiness. The book, by the late Garry Marshall (the film’s director) and original screenwriter J.F. Lawton, pretty much retains the period setting, the quips, and the moral, and hasn’t made the relationship any more explicable. Filling in that gap, however, is the score.
Given a hit soundtrack album that boasted Roy Orbison’s standard “Oh, Pretty Woman” and Roxette’s No. 1 single “It Must Have Been Love,” the musical could have gone the jukebox route, but rock star Bryan Adams and his writing partner Jim Vallance were enlisted instead, a wise choice. Edward is a character ideally suited to expressing his thoughts and longings via song and dance, and Andy Karl (a musicals-into-movies veteran, with Rocky and Groundhog Day under his belt) makes the most of the opportunity to broaden the role. While the lyrics rarely advance beyond the song titles (“Anywhere but Here,” “Never Give Up on a Dream,” “I Can’t Go Back”) some of them sound uncannily like Adams’ hits from back in the day, adding to the nostalgic vibe.
I wasn’t nostalgic for the ho-hum business shenanigans that still form the subplot, and charm alone can’t keep the show from wearing thin. Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who flew his freak flag high with the movie/musical Kinky Boots, keeps the ensemble gyrating but is more at half-mast here with less challenging and empowering material. Helping to keep Pretty Woman afloat are pleasing second-banana contributions from Orfeh (Karl’s wife, delightful as Vivian’s street-smart friend), Tommy Bracco (as the hapless bellboy Giulio) and especially Eric Anderson, in two crowdpleasing parts, a Hollywood Boulevard troubadour and Vivian’s concierge mentor. David Rockwell’s production is Los Angeles luxe, and Gregg Barnes’ costumes a match for the film’s classic duds. My Fair Lady it’s not – but My Fair Hooker isn’t bad.