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The Beauty Of Pretty Woman: The Musical 
From the big screen to the stage, this compelling romantic comedy offers a bit of Cinderella
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  THERE is no denying the fairy tale aspect so prominently featured in the pre-Broadway production of Pretty Woman: The Musical. And it works. Just as the movie Pretty Woman, starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, struck a melodious chord with moviegoers, theatergoers swept up by the Cinderella-like love story of a $100-an-hour hooker and a somewhat naïve billionaire are enthusiastically embracing the stage production at the Oriental Theatre through April 15. 
   It’s always difficult for producers to transform a movie and bring it to the theater while retaining its original appeal. But with a book written by Garry Marshall and the film’s screenwriter J.F. Lawton, a whole new look at the power of love is being offered to those familiar with the story and to a new generation who is being acquainted with the romantic comedy.
   Theirs is an unlikely love story that develops quickly and deeply and is a throwback to other happily-ever-after efforts on screen and stage. Lost in Hollywood while searching for his hotel, Edward (Steve Kazee) just happens to end up in the area where Vivian (Samantha Barks) is “working” in an effort to somehow change her station in life. After negotiating, the two agree that Edward will pay her $300 for the entire night if she not only provides direction to the hotel but also drives his car, a troubling stick shift that belongs to his attorney. That turns into a $3,000 deal for Vivian that yields six days and nights of the unexpected, leaving her wondering why a man of Edward’s finances would pass up millions of other women and choose her to accompany him during his week-long stay in Hollywood. Edward’s answer: “I wanted a sure thing." 
   In the hands of two-time Tony Award-winning director/choregrapher Jerry Mitchell (who also directed and choreographed Kinky Boots during its Chicago pre-Broadway run), he takes us from the gritty Hollywood streets to the elegance of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and highlights the incremental steps leading to their romance––from an impromptu carpet picnic on the floor of their penthouse to fantastic and bizarre shopping sprees to her being the center of attention at the ritzy Edward Lewis Enterprises Charity Polo Classic. Throughout the progression there is the original music from Grammy Award-winner Bryan Adams and songwriter Jim Vallance, including songs such as “Anywhere But Here,” “Something About Her,” “Look At Me Now,” “You and I” (not the Stevie Wonder tune) and “Never Give Up On A Dream.” 
   For those who have seen the movie, it’s difficult not to compare it to the stage presentation, particularly when it comes to the lead actors. However, Barks, recipient of the Best Female Newcomer Empire Award and the Spotlight Award from the Hollywood Film Festival, immediately establishes herself in the thigh-high, black boots and miniskirt that were so much an identifying part of Roberts’ movie character. Barks became “Vivian” in attitude and spirit as well. Kazee, who won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role in Once and the 2013 Grammy for musical theater album, brings an engaging and sophisticated portrayal of the Gere role as a seemingly heartless corporate raider from New York. The remaining cast and ensemble are strong, with special attention going to Orfeh, Eric Anderson, Jason Danieley, Kingsley Leggs, Allison Blackwell and Tommy Bracco.  
   In addition to Mitchell’s superb direction and choreography, scenic designer David Rockwell’s amazing vision is on display in the fabulous sets created to depict the exterior of the hotel with lighted palm trees, a penthouse suite with a glamorous view, posh shops along Rodeo Drive and the working girls’ corner that features a liquor store, a tattoo parlor, the Blue Banana Club and the popular XXX Gifts & Toys.
   During the opening-night presentation, the excitement of theatergoers surrounding Pretty Woman: The Musical was evident in the fact that several women (and some men) were wearing red as a tribute to the classic gown Vivian wore for a night at the opera. Already, the pre-Broadway production indicates that bigger things are in store when the curtain goes up on Broadway. And just think, perhaps the story of this great romance would not have come about if Edward knew how to properly drive a stick shift.
–– Walter Leavy
For more information, go to www.broadwayinchicago.com. Tickets for the world premiere of Pretty Woman: The Musical range from $33 to $125. They can be purchased at all Broadway in Chicago box offices (24 W. Randolph Street, 18 W. Monroe Street and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway in Chicago ticket line at 800/775-2000 and online at www.broadwayinchicago.com. The schedule is as follows: Tuesday through Friday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Please note there will be 2 p.m. matinees on April 4 and April 11. There will be no evening performances on April 8 and April 15.
Samantha Barks and Steve Kazee star in the world premiere of Pretty Woman: The Musical at the Oriental Theatre through April 15.
Photograph by Matthew Murphy
Pictured with Barks and Kazee (center) are members of the creative team, including (left to right) music creators Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, producer Paula Wagner, screenwriter J.F. Lawton and director Jerry Mitchell.