By ROY BERKO
The film “Pretty Woman,” with its signature Roy Orbison song, was originally planned to be a tale about class and prostitution, but was re-conceived into a romantic comedy and opened to both critical and audience delight. Starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, it still gets a considerable audience when it is shown on television.
Unfortunately, Pretty Woman: The Musical, a version of which is now on stage at the Connor Palace as part of the Key Bank Broadway Series, opened to universally negative reviews.
Based on the film’s success, the 2018 Broadway previews, before the official opening, broke the Nederlander Theatre box office’s record for an eight-performance week.
After the reviews came out, generally calling the Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance score as “pleasant but bland,” and “the plot needing updating” and the “gender dynamics of the movie’s plot having aged poorly,” the show limped along, running 27 previews and 420 regular performances.
The book by Garry Marshall and J. F. Lawton tells the tale of “Vivian Ward a free-spirited Hollywood prostitute who lives with her sarcastic wisecracking best friend and roommate, Kit De Luca. Vivian is hired by Edward Lewis, a handsome wealthy businessman, to be his escort for several business and social functions.” The question, of course, is whether this is going to be a Cinderella story where the unlikely duo becomes a real-life “happily ever after” tale.
The touring company pulled off a surprise coupe in its opening night.
Playing with a handful of substitutes, due to medical problems, the audience, which gave tepid applause to “Welcome to Hollywood,” a less than dynamic curtain-raiser, warmed up when charming Olivia Valli, playing the Julia Roberts role of Vivian, sang, “Any Where but Here,” the show’s “I want song,” whose purpose is to clarify the desires of the leading character and set the plot on track.
Olivia doesn’t want to be a prostitute, but seems to have no options. It’s similar in plot development to “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” from My Fair Lady, where Eliza tells us of her desire to improve her lot in life and no longer be selling flowers on the street.
Eliza is taken in by Henry Higgins and Vivian hooks up with Edward Lewis; both the plot and the women’s wishes are accomplished.
The audience’s (“Hey, this is better than I expected”) love-fest continued as comic characters, including Kit De Luca (a delightful Jessica Crouch), Nico DeJuses (a fill-in for the role of Guilio, a hotel bellman, almost stole the show with his dancing and comic timing), and Happy Man/Hotel Manager (the dynamic Kyle Taylor Parker, who appeared on Broadway as the co-lead in Kinky Boots) came on stage.
DeLuca gave us the image of a sex worker having fun, DeJuses is a munchkin-sized charmer, and Parker delighted with “On a Night Like Tonight,” “Don’t Forget to Dance,” and “Never Give Up on a Dream.”
When handsome, gym-toned Chris Manuel, filling in for Adam Pascal of Rent fame in the role of Edward, sang the plaintive “Something About Her” and then belted out “Freedom,” the applause was prolonged and the audience was on its way to experiencing an evening of satisfying musical theatre.
Don’t leave before the curtain call or you’ll miss the joint cast and audience singing, dancing, swaying and clapping version of “Pretty Woman,” the movie’s theme song, which is not a part of the musical’s score.
Capsule Judgment: Pretty Woman is not a great musical. It is definitely not A Chorus Line, My Fair Lady or West Side Story, but this production, even with the obvious story line and mediocre score, is worth a sit-through. The audience, after rendering the required “we are nice Clevelanders and give almost every production a standing ovation,” left with high positive chatter!
Pretty Woman: The Musical runs 2 hours and 25 minutes with a 15-minute intermission at the Connor Palace through March 27. For tickets click here or call 216-640-8800.