‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ review
About This Event
This aggressively stupid musical version of the Julia Roberts smash justifies the terrible Broadway reviews
Yes, it is a big mistake. Yes, it is a huge mistake.
It wafted over from Broadway on a miasma of bad reviews, so I was braced for this musical version of the clearly quite dated 1990 Julia Roberts smash to be a touch problematic.
In fact, ‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ is so witless that it defies any serious attempt to scrutinise its politics. Telling the story of Edward, a ruthless businessman whose life is changed on a visit to LA after he picks up Vivian, a free-spirited hooker, it is in fact no more about capitalism or sex work than it is about sports cars or cruise liners – all of these things are just plot points as Gary Marshall and JF Lawton’s book hauls itself wearily through its ‘Pygmalion’-like paces.
The film, of course, had Julia Roberts and Richard Gere to style it out. With the best will in the world, leading man Danny Mac is no Gere. But he doesn’t have much to work with. His Edward is 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.
By the same token, Aimie Atkinson can hardly hold a candle to Roberts. But her Vivian is winningly goofy and the clear highlight of the production. Yet bulked out with songs, the whole set-up is baffling. Edward hires Vivian for six days on the grounds that he needs a dinner date, and a live-in hooker is less hassle than a girlfriend; eventually they fall in love and he decides corporate raiding is bad because… she’s nice?
I get the appeal of ‘Pretty Woman’. It’s an old-school feelgood Cinderella and Prince Charming fantasy. The musical hits all the beats of the beloved film, down to the costumes (although my companion was disappointed the climactic ‘formal shorts’ don’t make a showing). The Piccadilly Theatre has a great offer on a bottle of wine. I would be a colossal douche to be demanding it be updated into an all-singing version of ‘Revolting Prostitutes’.
But what we get is just so half-arsed. The film’s writer-director team Lawton and Marshall haven’t just failed to update ‘Pretty Woman’ – it feels like it’s backslid. The musical not only squanders the many opportunities it has to expand on Edward and Vivian’s inner lives and motivations via the medium of song, but it’s managed to create a more boring, less plausible version of Edward.
The songs we get – by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance – are pleasant enough, and bona fide ’80s rocker Adams applies enough Sunset Strip chug to distance the music from generic Broadway fodder. But lyrics that might have deepened the story are just squandered in by-numbers romantic ditties that never get to grips with how weird the situation is. The most pulse-racing thing here is a teased ‘will they, won’t they?’ on whether or not we’ll get a run-through of the titular Roy Orbison tune.
Old-school pro Broadway director Jerry Mitchell does his best to keep things slick and light, but the pacing is atrocious: we go to the curtain on the opposite of a cliffhanger, with Vivian mid shopping spree, zero clouds on the horizon. It is hysterically chaste – a total lack of horniness further drains more life out of it. And an attempt to add a puckish metatheatrical note via the fourth-wall-breaking staff of Edward’s hotel feels horribly strained.
‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ is a good times and low expectations sort of show that does the minimum expected of it, and no more. There were drunk people in tiaras there when I went, who seemed to be having fun, and drunk people in tiaras are a legitimate and important part of the West End ecology. But I would argue that they might have also enjoyed themselves at a better musical version of ‘Pretty Woman’, or even just a more interesting one than this cynical, soulless, nostalgia cash-in.