Pretty Woman: The Musical | Live Show Review

Laura Lott
Monday, February 26, 2024

As an exercise in faithfully translating a beloved film onto the stage and providing a dose of escapism and wish fulfilment, it succeeds

Pretty Woman Tour: The Company (photo: Marc Brenner)
Pretty Woman Tour: The Company (photo: Marc Brenner)

There’s no getting away from the tawdriness of Pretty Woman’s central concept. Edward, a rich businessman, hires Vivian, a sex worker, to be his companion during a week’s stay in Los Angeles. Edward gives Vivian a Pygmalion-style transformation, and the pair fall in love. On paper it shouldn’t be appealing, but the 1990 movie became one of the most successful romantic comedies ever and catapulted Julia Roberts into superstardom. Surely though, a modern stage adaptation would update the story for today’s audiences? Well, no, not really.

Pretty Woman: The Musical is almost a carbon copy of the film, something that contributed to the decidedly mixed reviews it received for its Broadway bow in 2018 and its West End transfer in 2020. With a book by Garry Marshall and JF Lawton, who served as director and writer respectively on the movie, the show hits all the same plot beats. It makes no real attempt to modernise the gender politics; the most we get is a slightly altered scene where Vivian fights off the unwanted attentions of Edward’s business partner rather than being saved by Edward.

Jerry Mitchell directs, but while other adaptations he’s helmed, such as Legally Blonde, have given us deeper character insights, there’s little of that here.

As Vivian, Amber Davies gives us a sweet, tough character who is easy to root for

Despite lyrical refrains about following your dreams, we don’t get much sense of Vivian dreaming of anything beyond getting off the streets and marrying a white knight.

While remaining so faithful to the movie has its drawbacks, the flip side is that the musical contains everything that audiences looking for nostalgia could possibly want. All the beloved scenes, from the famous shopping sequence to the racetrack excursion, are included, and even the outfits are replicated exactly.

It’s a slick, crowd-pleasing production. David Rockwell’s minimal but effective sets take us from the neon lights and silhouetted palm trees of Hollywood Boulevard to the luxe Beverly Wilshire penthouse suite, and a towering opera box provides the ideal platform for Vivian to experience La traviata. Tom Rogers’s costumes transport us to the late 1980s with leather miniskirts, thigh-high boots and an abundance of acid-wash denim.

The score from Canadian songwriting partnership Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance is guitar- and piano-led soft rock, with several upbeat, feel-good numbers and a few power ballads that could have come from one of Adams’s ’90s albums. The tracks are enjoyable, if not particularly memorable. Lyrics are often painfully on the nose, particularly in Vivian’s two biggest songs, ‘Anywhere But Here’ and ‘I Can’t Go Back’, but the soaring notes impress regardless.

Amber Davies tackles those notes with impressive grit and power. She’s charming as Vivian, and resists the urge to emulate Roberts too closely, instead giving us a sweet, tough character who is easy to root for.

She’s well matched with Oliver Savile, who’s suave but likeable and performs his several ballads with a silky tone befitting of the always-smooth Edward.

Natalie Paris is delightful in the role of Vivian’s friend Kit, all bubbling exuberance and extended riffs. The show is stolen, though, by Ore Oduba who appears as several characters, most notably hotel manager Mr Thompson. Frequently breaking the fourth wall, he gets constant laughs, and provides a necessary dose of warmth. His vocals aren’t particularly strong, but he makes up for it with dazzling dancing and equally dazzling grins.

Mr Thompson may or may not be dating Noah Harrison’s bellboy Giulio, who does some scene stealing of his own with a series of gleefully shocked expressions.

Pretty Woman: The Musical has its flaws, with its lack of modern sensibility, absence of nuance and several forgettable songs. But as an exercise in faithfully translating a beloved film onto the stage and providing a dose of escapism and wish fulfilment (who wouldn’t want an unlimited shopping spree in Beverly Hills?), it succeeds. It may not be a great musical, but for many people it will be a great night out.

Production credits

Bryan Adams, Jim Vallance music, lyrics

Garry Marshall, JF Lawton book

Cast Amber Davies, Oliver Savile, Ore Oduba, Natalie Paris, Ben Darcy, Chomba Taulo, Noah Harrison et al

Direction, choreography Jerry Mitchell

UK associate direction Dominic Shaw

UK musical supervision Gareth Weedon

Set David Rockwell

Lighting Kenneth Posner, Philip S Rosenberg

UK sound design Greg Pink

Costumes Tom Rogers

This article originally appeared in the December 2023 / January 2024 issue of Musicals magazine. Never miss an issue – subscribe today