For Broadway audiences, ‘Pretty Woman’ remains antique in an ever-changing scene

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For Broadway audiences, ‘Pretty Woman’ remains antique in an ever-changing scene

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Upon entering the Nederlander Theater on July 19, I was unsure of what to expect. After all, the only reason I was coming to see the show was because one of the leads, Andy Karl (of “Groundhog Day” and “Rocky”, most notably), is one of my favorite Broadway actors. I knew that “Pretty Woman” was a movie with a prostitute played by Julia Roberts and a rich dude played by Richard Gere, but I knew nothing of the plot. And, thanks to Ben Brantley of the New York Times, I came in with relatively low expectations of the show overall. Even before the lights came up, my brain was already thinking of what I was going to say to Andy Karl at the stage door.

After seeing the show, I was glad that I had not seen the movie beforehand. Much of the criticism I had seen surrounding the show was about the reuse of dialogue from the film. Since I had no expectations for the dialogue coming in, I enjoyed hearing it fresh for the first time. The story itself is somewhat interesting as well; businessman Edward (Andy Karl) meets prostitute Vivian (Samantha Barks), falls in love with her, takes her to social conventions and parties for the elite, and she  falls in love with him by the end (well, the second time—she walks out on him once first). However, the story lacks character development. Vivian is set up to be an independent, driven person, yet for a majority of the musical she relies on her friend/mentor figure Kit (Orfeh) for advice and direction. Moreover, the show is written in a way that makes it seem like Vivian could not have gotten out of the situation she was in were it not for Edward coming along, which, realistic or not, doesn’t promote the proper gender dynamics that some might argue a show in 2019 should. Perhaps this is the fault of having the same people write the book of the musical as the script of the film, but whatever the case, much of the writing feels stale and outdated.

A notable example is the story of Edward. Through his songs, the show illustrates how he started out rich and unhappy, and then through spending time with Vivian, began to notice that people in general were worth more than the amount of money they had or the connections they had. There’s a great moment in the middle of the second act where Edward and his lawyer, Philip Stuckey (Jason Danieley), are about to close a deal that could potentially destroy the career of their business competitor, Mr. Morse (Ezra Knight). At the last second, Edward has a change of heart and tells Morse in person that he’s taking back the offer and thus breaking the deal. When Morse asks him why, Edward just shakes his hand and brings him in for a half-hug. Morse, of course, is left stunned and awed, and he then smiles and nods to Edward. In the course of the show, that moment doesn’t hold much significance, but to me, it served to show that Edward truly changed like he hoped he could in the first act.

Aside from the shortcomings of the plot and book, the show has good music and great acting that help to buoy it. The score by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance contains a nice mix of classic company numbers, ballads and even pop songs to highlight certain moments between characters (or solos “inside the head” of characters). The lyrics are somewhat bland, but do not detract too much from the songwriting. The choreography by Jerry Mitchell is especially notable in numbers such as “Welcome to Hollywood,” “On A Night Like Tonight,” and “Welcome to Our World (More Champagne).” And perhaps even more so than Barks and Karl do, supporting actors Orfeh (who plays Kit DeLuca) and Eric Anderson (who plays Happy Man/Mr. Thompson) steal the show at various points with both their acting and singing.

Overall, however, the show’s narrative just doesn’t appeal widely to the Broadway demographic in 2019 like it did to moviegoers in 1990, which I think says more about society as a whole than it does about this show. Furthermore, since the show is an adaptation of a popular film, it carries with it the burden of living up to audience’s expectations more so than, say, “Hadestown” or “Dear Evan Hansen” might (both are original concepts).

“Pretty Woman” closed Aug. 18 after just over a year on Broadway (447 performances). The show is scheduled to go on tour starting in Germany next month and then London in early 2020. The original Broadway cast recording is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Score: B+

Book: C

Choreography: B

Performance (quality of acting): A-

Tech (sound/lights/sets/costumes): B+

Overall: B