Adam Pascal & Olivia Valli in Pretty Woman. Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Pretty Woman

Book by Garry Marshall & J. F. Lawton
Music and Lyrics by Bryan Adams & Jim Vallance
Based on the Screenplay by J. F. Lawton
Directed and Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell

A review by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2022, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

Just the other day I was discussing with a fellow thespian/theater reviewer about the commercialization of modern theater. It seems there is very little originality these days, and more and more stage productions are being adapted from hit films. 

It’s not a new phenomenon. It arguably goes back as early as the beginning of the movie and Broadway industries. But stage musicals used to try and distance themselves from their source material, creating new titles that made them stand apart. The Matchmaker became Hello, Dolly!, The Importance of Being Earnest became Ernest in Love, All About Eve became Applause, Miracle on 34th Street became Here’s Love, and the list goes on. Nowadays, though, there is no attempt to separate the musical from the movie, shows such as Hairspray, Kinky Boots, Mary Poppins, and Shrek becoming popular among regional theaters, and shows heading our way based on such odd choices as Back to the Future and Grumpy Old Men.

The question begs, then, is there still art to be found in the popular? I argue that there are gems among these. One local theater company actually specializes in trotting out old and new chestnuts and even states it in their mission statement. A show can be a commercial success and still have artistic merit and I applaud those that succeed.

Which brings me to Pretty Woman, the touring version of which is currently playing at Kentucky Performing Arts. Based on the 1990 smash hit film that made a star out of Julia Roberts and gave a much needed shot in the arm to the careers of Richard Gere and director Garry Marshall, it’s basically Cinderella with prostitutes and Wall Street.

An odd story to adapt as a musical, to say the least. It tells the tale of Vivian, a hooker with a heart of gold, who meets cute with billionaire businessman Edward, who hires her for a night of passion and then for a week of companionship, treating her to all the frills that entails. Of course they fall in love and everything leads to a happy ending. But oh, my, has this story not aged well. In the era of Me Too, this tale should have been left in the 90’s, or at least been given a sharp re-write. As it stands, it is a slavish adaptation of the film, only removing a few bits in order to give time for the musical numbers.

The lead roles are a mixed bag. As Vivian, Jessie Davidson tries a bit too hard to emulate Julie Roberts, to the point it gets distracting. She does have a strong singing voice though and acquits herself well with some lovely vocals. Adam Pascal, the big name in the cast, is quite good as Edward, in both acting and vocals, and is one of the show’s saving graces. I also really enjoyed Trent Soyster as the energetic bellhop Giulio. His comic timing and graceful dance moves steel every scene he’s in. And in multiple roles, including the kindly and dignified Hotel Manager played by Hector Elizondo in the film, Kyle Taylor Parker brings a level of showmanship the rest of the show could really use more of.

The songs by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance are generally catchy, but the show relies too much on one power ballad after another and it ends up sounding repetitive. The opening number “Welcome to Hollywood” and ten o’clock number “I Can’t Go Back” are highlights.

Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell does the best he can with the material, and several of the dance numbers are quite impressive. I also really enjoyed the set designs and smooth transitions created by David Rockwell. Along with the on-point costumes by Gregg Barnes, the late-80’s/early 90’s esthetic really shines through.

If you are a fan of the film, you will probably enjoy the show. It’s energetic and faithful to the source material, but not a great example of what can be done adapting a work to another medium.

Starring Jordan Alexander, Jade Amber, Natalie Bourgeois, Anju Cloud, Jessica Crouch, Michael Dalke, Jessie Davidson, Matt Farcher, Carissa Gaughran, Mia Gerachis, Em Hadick, Graham Keen, Christian Kidd, Keyonna Knight, Devon McCloskey, Kyle Taylor Parker, Adam Pascal, Alice Reys, Jonathan Ritter, Bianca Rivera-Irions, Trent Soyster, Adam Stocke, Brett Stoelker, and Jonathan Young

Pretty Woman

November 29 – December 4, 2022

Broadway in Louisville
Kentucky Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.