Nostalgia is the name of the game in Pretty Woman: The Musical, playing a one-week run at Broadway San Diego’s Civic Theater from July 26-31, 2022. Produced by Grammy winner Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, with book by movie director and screenwriter Gerry Marshall and J. F. Lawton, is exactly what it sounds like: a faithful adaptation of a cherished romcom replete with all of the iconic moments which made the movie so beloved. It is well-executed, high energy, and filled with outstanding performances.
And for those heading to the theater to experience happy flashes from the past, this is a production to catch! Moments, dialogue, and even costumes from the treasured film starring Julia Roberts are cookie-cuttered onto the stage.
Pretty Woman: The Musical, like the movie, tells the story of proud and honorable (but off-course) call girl Vivian Ward (Olivia Valli) trying to make ends meet by capturing the attention of a wealthy investor, Edward Lewis (Adam Pascal). They make a connection, he procures her services for 6 days (for the cool sum of $3000, though he’d “have paid $4000”), and in the process of keeping one another company, both characters learn more about themselves and, ultimately, fall in love. It’s predictable in that way that many 90s movies are, and it is classic romantic fodder for a date night out… candy, if you will: sugary to the taste, but not much substance to it.
That said, for those with a sweet tooth, there are things in this production to be enjoyed: Adam Pascal brings all of the soaring vocals to be expected in Edward Lewis after playing the role on Broadway, and his star-studded power draws audiences to the stage. Tunes “Something About Her,” “Freedom,” and “You and I” are right in his vocal wheelhouse and give his character some much-needed motivation aside from the office grind. Opposite Pascal is exceptional belter Olivia Valli, filling the venue beautifully with her “Luckiest Girl in the World,” “This is my Life,” and “I Can’t Go Back.”
Nevertheless, cliché lyrics in the score leave these personas – that should read as vivacious and charismatic, complex and conflicted – wanting. The shallowness of the writing makes it hard to believe in the leads’ fairytale romance, in spite of the physical chemistry Pascal and Valli work so hard to portray as authentic or their skill as songsters.
Bright moments, however, do pepper the somewhat stale dialogue, thanks to show stealers Kit De Luca (Jessica Crouch), Happy (Man Kyle Taylor Parker), and Giulio (Trent Soyster), who ultimately keep the audience engaged. Crouch’s vocal prowess is on full display in her riffs and growling runs and she has exceptional command of the attitude needed to play party girl turned undercover vice operative De Luca.
Parker raucously breaks the fourth wall as Happy Man, the narrator, and is outstanding as the generous and kind Beverly Wilshire Hotel manager. He delights the audience with his spirited dance and song in “On a Night Like Tonight.” And, in a welcome departure from the screenplay, new character dancing bellhop Giulio is embodied with tremendous energy and joy by Soyster; the physicality of this role is tremendous and it is absolutely done justice by a young man who has the entire theater rooting for him to return to the stage every time he leaves.
Tony Award-winning Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell should be commended for his blocking work in generating beautiful visual pictures on stage (highlighted first in the song “Anywhere but Here” on Hollywood Boulevard) and for the delightful ballroom dancing scene featuring the hotel staff, though some blocking elsewhere, most notably in the number “Long Way Home,” feels static and tired, and the placement of actors in the opera scene lacks visual impact.
David Rockwell’s scenic design features cutouts alluding to a variety of venues; this is clever, especially when silhouetted in lighting designer Kenneth Posner and Philip S. Rosenberg’s vibrant sunset and neon nighttime schemes. While simple, these elements are well executed and effective and contribute to the sweetness of the evening.
For those who are more entrenched in the #metoo movement, have a harder time with problematic representation, challenge productions to find agency for marginalized characters without relying on savior storylines, or simply want a deeper, more meaningful story, this may be a more sour treat to swallow… but for those who are looking for a fun and lighthearted romcom,
Pretty Woman: The Musical runs at the Civic Center through July 31.