Edward Lewis: “You can’t charge me for directions.”
Vivian Ward: “I can do anything I want to, baby. I ain’t lost.”
It’s those two lines from an early scene in the 1990 film “Pretty Woman” that cut to the heart of the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere rom-com that ensues. In that moment (perhaps not so obvious all those years ago) was the underlying soul of the film’s fairy-tale storyline: Edward the millionaire is the prince who is lost; Vivian the prostitute is the princess who will save him and help him find his way — to Beverly Hills, and to his reason for being.
‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’
When: Through April 15
Where: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph
That’s all pretty heady, of course, for the film — which skyrocketed Roberts to superstardom and confirmed Gere’s sex-symbol film persona — was a love story, pure and simple. But Vivian was no demure, dainty lass. Her strength and determination (and that megawatt smile) resonated with moviegoers. And Edward, though an emotional wreck, was no weakling. His vulnerability made him all the more interesting.
Fast-forward nearly 30 years, and the film is now a Broadway-bound stage extravaganza, “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell (“Kinky Boots,” “On Your Feet,” “Legally Blonde”). The creative team also boasts original music and lyrics by Grammy Award winner Bryan Adams (“Do It for You,” “Summer of ’69”) and his longtime collaborator Jim Vallance, and a book by the late, great Garry Marshall (who directed the film) and the film’s screenwriter J.F. Lawton.
The genesis of the musical, which began previews earlier this week in its pre-Broadway world premiere at the Oriental Theatre, was conceived in Mitchell’s mind 28 years ago. “I wanted to make this musical from the first time I saw the film,” Mitchell says excitedly. “I instantly felt the musicality of the story. … Because it’s a big love story. It’s a Cinderella story. …
“I thought the film does what films do beautifully: A lot of the movie is in close-up; so much of the emotion is on the actors’ faces. THOSE moments to me are musical — that’s when you introduce a song: What does the character want? What are they thinking? That’s how I saw the musicality of this story line, of these two people. The film is so beloved that I had to honor the movie and still find a way to turn it in to a new musical.”
With Marshall and Lawton already writing the stage script (the project continued after Marshall’s death in 2016, with the blessing of his estate), Mitchell would hook up with his songwriters, Adams and Vallance, in London first, and later in Chicago, where the creatives would write a good portion of the musical.
“Two Christmases ago, I was in Chicago with ‘Gotta Dance’ and I called J.F. [Lawton] and Bryan [Adams] and Jim [Vallance] and I said, ‘Come to Chicago and hang out with me. Let’s meet in the mornings in Chicago and work on the show.’ They all did, and we spent a lot of time just writing ‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ and working a big section of the show right here.”
Added Adams, smiling, “I also had the idea of turning the film into a musical — about 10 years ago. It’s a great love story. … I dabbled in love songs over the course of my life and thought it would be inspiring to make this film into a musical. I loved the challenge of it. … It’s much like writing an album — you try to create something that has an ebb and flow. There has to be uptempo songs, slow songs, rock. Musicals are the same.
“I usually write songs for myself and then I sing them and put them out,” Adams continues. “This time I’ve written songs and other people are interpreting them. That was very new to me and quite exciting.”
The show currently features 23 songs (Adams and Vallance wrote 35), but Mitchell says he’s not sure all will make it to Broadway. Or perhaps they’ll add a few. “That’s what this [Chicago engagement] is for,” Mitchell says. “I don’t care about the New York opening night reviews because at that point there’s nothing I can do about it. The show is done. [This Chicago run] is where a new musical can be [adjusted] as needed, if needed. ” (Adams and Vallance are sticking around town for a few weeks for whatever tweaks will be made as the show’s run continues.)
With book, music, costumes and sets in place, Mitchell was already assembling his cast. He turned to a stellar ensemble: Samantha Barks (“Les Miserables”) as Vivian; Tony and Grammy winner Steve Kazee (“Once”) as Edward; Tony Award nominee Orfeh as Vivian’s best friend Kit; and Broadway veterans Eric Anderson as Mr. Thompson, the hotel manager, Jason Danieley as Edward’s creepy lawyer Philip Stuckey, and Kingsley Leggs as James Morse (the man who will become a father figure to Edward).
As with other film-to-stage transitions, actors are given the unenviable task of stepping into roles beloved by hardcore fans.
“To step into the shoes of Richard Gere is intimidating at first,” Kazee says. “As an actor, you’re taking a part — very rarely a part that’s never been played before — but you make it your own. It’s a delicate balance in this scenario because you want to stay true to what the audience wants to see, but you bring your own touches to the character. … If you just try to re-create the film on stage, it doesn’t have anything extra to add to it and that immediately takes the audience out of it. … We have a great team of creatives on this project, so it’s not just the film with songs thrown in. The musical hits all the key plot points of the film because the audience wants to see something they remember. But they also want a fresh take on it. It’s a love story between two people who find themselves at bad places in their lives and find each other, and find the lives they have are not the lives that they want, that the lives they want are their lives together.”
For Barks, re-creating Vivian Ward on stage was likewise a daunting but thrilling process.
“I just adore Julia Roberts,” Barks says, beaming. “I was just obsessed with the movie because of her portrayal of Vivian. … I fell in love with Vivian because she is the underdog and you’re rooting for her. She’s someone who doesn’t want the life she has. She meets and falls in love with this guy, but the key line [in the script] is that she rescues him right back. That moment is the beginning of this exciting adventure they’ll go on together. She will continue to challenge him. She wants the fairy-tale ending but she won’t settle. … It’s a Cinderella story but it’s the prince who needs rescuing, and she’s the woman to do it.”