(L to R) Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli. Credit: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
The film Pretty Woman first wowed audiences in 1990. Though it was originally conceived as a darker, seedier story, it was ultimately released as the frothy romantic comedy so many know and love.
Looking back, there are certainly problematic elements, but Garry Marshall’s direction and J.F. Lawton’s screenplay have a “magic eraser” sort of effect. Viewers know they’re watching something that glosses over big issues. They know they’re watching something that’s not very true-to-life, but they love it anyway. And, the same holds true for Pretty Woman: The Musical, onstage now at DPAC and with a book by that same dynamic pair. And, speaking of dynamic pairs, Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance are behind the catchy music.
As the curtain opens, viewers are instantly whisked away into the 1980s world of young sex worker Vivian Ward (Olivia Valli). She’s living a hard life, but still maintains an innocent joy. It’s that joy that draws rich Edward Lewis (Brent Thiessen at the opening night performance) to her. Well, that, and a desperate need for directions back to the Beverly Wilshire. What unfolds, as fans of the film know, is a mutually reviving romance.
Here, the narrator is a “happy man,” portrayed by a show-stealing Kyle Taylor Parker. He’s not just the narrator though. He also serves as a store clerk, opera conductor, and hotel manager. And, in each role, he adds joy and fun to the production. In fact, it becomes a game of sorts to see just how many times he can pop up.
He’s not the only non-main character who adds to the fun either. Trent Soyster’s bellhop Giulio is a joy to watch. He also gets the best of Jerry Mitchell’s enjoyable choreography and makes the most of it. Plus, Amma Osei, with her operatic voice, regularly wows as both “Violetta” and in the ensemble. Likewise, Christian Brailsford projects a profound presence and immense likeability in his small-but-important role as David Morse, Edward’s plot-important business associate.
In the lead roles, Valli and Thiessen are a great match. In fact, their chemistry and bubbly banter make it hard to believe that Thiessen is an understudy. He creates an Edward that is believably bemused, bewitched, and so utterly smitten with Vivian that he’s impossible not to love. He also stands out in the “You and I” number, while Valli’s shining moment (among many) happens during “This Is My Life.”
With that said, the script and the music definitely err on the “light and fluffy” side, but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. The writing is also careful to avoid shaming sex work. This show’s Vivian doesn’t think her profession is wrong. She just thinks it’s no longer the right choice for her. She’s also a heroine who could save herself and has plans to do so.
And, while there is sex here- of course there is- it’s never portrayed in an uncomfortable way, thanks largely to careful lighting choices. Also, it has to be said that Gregg Barnes’ costume design is spot-on. It both honors and reinvents iconic fashions from the film.
Overall, Pretty Woman: The Musical is much like its film predecessor. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, but so what? You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who, if they’re being honest, doesn’t love it.
We love the arts. We write about them. Founded 2018.