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Bob Goepfert Reviews "Pretty Woman - The Musical"

Pretty Woman: The Musical, Pictured: Samantha Barks, Andy Karl and company
Mathew Murphy, 2018
Pictured: Samantha Barks, Andy Karl and company of Pretty Woman: The Musical

NEW YORK, NY -  “Pretty Woman-the Musical,” which just opened on Broadway is a charming, well-performed musical in the traditional sense of the word.   It takes the familiar story of a well-to-do important man who falls under the charms of a beguiling female.  He falls in love, changes his ways to become a softer more human person and she becomes the dominant figure in the relationship.

If you need an example of that type of fairy tale romance, “My Fair Lady” immediately comes to mind.   But instead of a lowly flower girl charming a stuffy professor, think a hooker melting the heart of an exploitive wealthy businessman. 

To be sure “Pretty Woman” is not another “My Fair Lady.”  For one thing it doesn’t have a score filled with hits and it sure doesn’t have the social message of “Pygmalion,” George Bernard’s Shaw’s source material for “My Fair Lady.”   

What “Pretty Woman” is - is a charming piece of romantic theater with a serviceable pop score by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.  As for the book, the program says it is based on the motion picture written by A.J. Lawton.   You remember it as the film that starred Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.

To say the musical is “based on” is like saying a photocopy is based on the original.   This is a reproduction of the film, with songs and dance numbers added.   Indeed, I’ve never been at a show where the appearance of a glamorous red dress drew applause and recognition from the audience just like they were seeing an old friend.

Now is probably the time to admit that I am likely one of the few people in the world who never saw the film.   This is an important statement, because a work that reproduces a legendary work from another medium comes with a lot of baggage.    The recreation must offer the audience what they have come to see beyond a familiar story.   Certain situations are mandatory, favorite lines must be included and the interpretations of the characters must resemble the originals.

I brought no such baggage into the theater.  My companion for the evening is a major fan of “Pretty Woman” – the film. For her, the musical fell short of the original, especially with the chemistry of the two leads.  Overall her feeling was that though a pleasant experience, it replicated the actions of the film without duplicating the emotional resonance of the original.  

This is more than a difference of opinion.  I think one’s enjoyment of the musical is in direct proportion to how attached you are to the film.  

As a “Pretty Woman” new-be, I found the show charming.  I fell in love with Samantha Barks’ portrayal of Ms. Roberts, oops I mean Vivian.  Her singing is great and her lyrical interpretation of every song personal to her character.  Andy Karl plays the stiff, rigid Edward kind of rigid and stiff, but you do believe he changes for the better and at play’s end he adores Vivian. Isn’t that what is supposed to happen in a romance? 

As for the songs, I doubt if anyone is going to remember most of the music an hour after the curtain, but when performed they seem ideal for the moment.  For me, it’s a pleasure to enjoy the music of a show without worry about subtext.  In “Pretty Woman” the individual numbers are enjoyable for what they are – pleasant interludes.

The supporting characters are also fun.   Kit, Vivian’s best friend and professional mentor is played as a tough, brash figure.   It’s a type that is designed for Orfeh, who belts out a song with the best of them.

My favorite supporting performance is offered by Eric Anderson who is charming sensitive and funny as the hotel manager Mr. Thompson and is almost mystical as the street-smart Happy Man.   Tommy Bracco is also terrific as the eager to please bell boy.  And you will be hissing at Jason Danieley as the snarky lawyer, Philip.

However, my favorite moments in the show is when Allison Blackwell sings a number from “La Traviatta.”   It’s magical.

There are not many magical moments in “Pretty Woman” but there are enough pleasing moments to guarantee you a night of relaxed fun.

“Pretty Woman – the Musical” is at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City for an open run.  877-250-2929.  

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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