fb-pixel Skip to main content

‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ is pretty ordinary

Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli in "Pretty Woman: The Musical."Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

The hollowness of “Pretty Woman” and the cheesiness of its sanitized “fairy tale” premise were plenty evident when it came out in 1990, but Julia Roberts seized the screen with such incandescent assurance that the movie felt like, and was, a star-is-born Event.

Roberts is nowhere to be found at the Citizens Bank Opera House, where “Pretty Woman: The Musical” has arrived for a run through Jan. 30, and incandescence is in pretty short supply, too.

What’s left are the original’s retrograde gender politics, embodied in the shallow portrait of a young streetwalker named Vivian Ward (Olivia Valli) who meets middle-aged corporate raider Edward Lewis (Adam Pascal) on Hollywood Boulevard. He pays her $3,000 to spend a week as his escort, putting her up in the penthouse of a fancy Beverly Hills hotel. Bit by bit, they fall in love.


Sound familiar? Everything about this show sounds familiar. It’s a by-the-numbers knockoff that largely contents itself with simply puttin’ on the glitz, its makers apparently confident that will be enough for fans of the movie. Well, it will have to be, for there are precious few surprises here. This is the musical-as-mimeograph, a case of calculated cloning.

Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, “Pretty Woman: The Musical” very much wants us to consider it an update on “My Fair Lady” and “Cinderella.” Uh, no. The musical blithely skates past the ick factors hovering over the transactional relationship between Vivian and Edward. Instead, it dutifully checks the predictable filmic boxes while offering a couple of brief nods to female empowerment — including a new career path for Kit De Luca (Jessica Crouch), Vivian’s partner in prostitution — in a wholly unsuccessful bid to make the show seem less dated.

When Vivian meets Edward, he is closing in on his latest leveraged-buyout target: a family-owned shipbuilding firm he plans to sell off in pieces once he and his slimy lawyer, Philip Stuckey (Brent Thiessen), can seal the deal. But they meet determined resistance from David Morse (Alex Gibbs), the son of the firm’s owner, who soon finds an ally in Vivian.


She, meanwhile, finds an ally on the romantic front in courtly hotel manager Mr. Thompson (winningly portrayed by Kyle Taylor Parker, who also plays the show’s narrator) as Vivian sets out to turn Edward from a Wall Street automaton into a human being.

Olivia Valli (center) and the company of "Pretty Woman: The Musical."Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

As the story unfolds, the cast valiantly tries to give life to a standard-issue pop-and-rock score that is weighed down by hackneyed lyrics (some of the titles will give you the general idea: “You’re Beautiful,” “Never Give Up on a Dream,” “Together Forever”) and lacks the fresh energy of inspiration that characterized the musical adaptation of, say, “Legally Blonde.”

Then again, that show had a self-awareness this one lacks. There’s an underlying hypocrisy in a work that celebrates the materialistic excesses of the one percent while pretending to deplore the shoddy values that give rise to those excesses. The true essence of “Pretty Woman: The Musical” lies in the deluxe trappings it invites us to gawk at, including a scene of a shopping binge on Rodeo Drive.

Somehow all of these shortcomings are not enough to keep Valli from making an impression. The granddaughter of Frankie Valli, she’s an appealingly buoyant presence, with a gift for comedy and for creating an air of spontaneity in even the most predictable scenes.


Pascal, who originated the role of Roger in “Rent” on Broadway and played Radames in “Aida,” fares considerably less well. He just can’t do much with Edward, a wooden figure whom it’s hard to care about, much less root for.

It’s not really fair to Valli that “Pretty Woman: The Musical” replicates the scene from the movie where Edward snaps a jewel case shut as he’s showing Vivian a pricey necklace, triggering a burst of startled laughter from her. Roberts made that an unforgettable moment. Unsurprisingly, Valli is unable to match it.

But the rest of her performance makes clear that Valli is destined for better things than the manipulative hokum of “Pretty Woman: The Musical.”


Book by Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton. Music and lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. Directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Presented by Broadway In Boston. At Citizens Bank Opera House, through Jan. 30. Tickets start at $39.50. www.BroadwayInBoston.com

Don Aucoin can be reached at donald.aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAucoin.