Since romance is a cornerstone of the musical theater, perhaps it was inevitable that Pretty Woman — the most popular rom-com of all time — would make its way to Broadway
It did so in 2018, thanks to an adaptation by Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton — the film’s director and screenwriter, respectively — as well as a score by Canadian pop composer Bryan Adams and his frequent collaborator, Jim Vallance.
But they may have taken the movie’s success too much to heart, for the show they created follows the source material slavishly, with the exception of a few amusing supporting characters.
For the benefit of those few cable-challenged or streaming service-deprived people who have never seen Pretty Woman, it is the fable-like story of a loudmouth Los Angeles hooker named Vivian Ward and a humorless, high-powered corporate raider, Edward Lewis. They meet cute — as the laws of rom-coms demand — and he then, improbably, hires her at her sex worker rate to be his arm candy for a week.
Sorry, no points if you guess that they will rub off on each other and fall in love by the finale. I mentioned that this was a rom-com, didn’t I? But give yourself a point or two if you recognize — as Vivian gains a nice Rodeo Drive wardrobe and her rough edges get polished — how much the story owes to My Fair Lady, with a bit of Cinderella thrown in for good measure.
Still, the best of the show simply duplicates moment from the movie. Shopping on Rodeo Drive and being snubbed by snooty store clerks. Having Vivian’s newly sanitized persona tested at the Beverly Hills polo club. Making a stunning entrance in a red off-the-shoulders gown before being whisked away to the opera. And on and on.
Surely the movie’s legions of fans will have no objection to this uninspired cribbing, It is probably why they came to the musical in the first place. But a little more creativity and deviation from the movie would have made a more satisfying experience.
Certainly Jessie Davidson (Vivian) and Adam Pascal (Edward) were cast and directed to adhere to our recollections of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Still, both performers sing with power and the Adams-Vallance score gives them plenty of opportunity to belt away. They pack these numbers with such emotion that we barely notice how little the songs advance the story or how prosaic the lyrics are.
One of director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s more theatrical ideas was having Travis Ward Osborne do triple duty. He first appears as a peppy leader of the ensemble, then transforms before our eyes into the manager of the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel. And later he pops up in the orchestra as its temporary conductor. Also stealing focus from Vivian and Edward is Trent Soyster as a giddy bellhop.
David Rockwell manages to transport the show all around Los Angeles, from the tawdry depths of Hollywood Boulevard to upscale board rooms. And Gregg Barnes clothes the production in a familiar, apt look that tells us he too is well aware of the movie.
Adapting a popular movie into a stage musical is a treacherous balancing act. You need to deliver all the iconic moments, while diverging enough to take advantage of the theater’s strengths. Pretty Woman settles more for the former than the latter for my taste, but chances are most movie fans will not mind at all.
PRETTY WOMAN, Kravis Center Dreyfoos Hall, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sunday, March 12. $40-$111. 561-832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org.