Pretty Woman the Musical – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Book: Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton

Music and Lyrics: Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance

Director: Jerry Mitchell

Pretty Woman is the latest early 90s rom-com to receive the Broadway treatment.

A Cinderella story of sorts, it tells the tale of Edward (Oliver Savile), a ruthless businessman whose life is changed on a visit to LA after he picks up Vivian (Amber Davies), a free-spirited hooker. The overriding message feels very much that everything, including love, is simply a matter of cost, with Marshall and Lawton’s book leaving no real scope to scrutinize the underlying politics of the story. As with many 90s adaptations, this show at times fails to land with modern audiences, often feeling tasteless and misogynistic, but the thick gloss of musical theatre pulls it through. The show does have high production values with its large Hollywood sign and its flashy wigs and costumes: David Rockwell’s design is true to its source material. But Davies looks more like a cosplayer in the first act than a leading lady: it seems within the first few scenes that the costume is wearing her. Tom Rogers has perhaps been a little overzealous in his quest to match the movie’s look – the costumes didn’t need to be lifted verbatim when simple nods would have sufficed. Rogers does, however, redeem himself in the second act with the white suit, as Dale Driscoll’s saturated lighting penetrates and creates a visual metamorphosis onto the costume itself.

Jerry Mitchell’s production revels in its nostalgia: in the kaleidoscopic opening number, Welcome To Hollywood, sex workers line Hollywood Boulevard in retro miniskirts, neon crop tops, and denim jackets with plenty of big hair and fish netting on display. Enter Ore Oduba as Happy Man/Mr Thompson. He sets the energy and pace for the whole show with his delightfully tongue-in-cheek demeanour. He is joined in small groups by ensemble cast members who are pumping their arms and furiously side-stepping with all the vigour of a 1980s jazzercise class.

Oduba has an electric partnership with Natalie Paris as Kit De Luca. She explodes into the opening number like a firework, bright and bolshy and with a voice like a power drill. Paris steals the show as Kit, a force to be reckoned with in her shiny miniskirt and an 80’s fauxhawk. Her onstage chemistry with Oduba and Davies is the nucleus of the show’s energy. Paris’ brassy presentation of Kit contrasts flawlessly with Davies’ Vivian who is portrayed as wholesome yet strong and independent, simply stuck in the gutter. As she contemplates her life in Anywhere But Here, Davies displays her acting chops as we see the tragedy of a smart girl finding herself in this situation. Her vocal delivery is sweet and the vulnerability she displays is beautiful to watch. Vivian is the brighter of the central couple. She quotes George Bernard Shaw in a nod to the Pygmalion myth that resonates throughout the original film. As she says: “It’s me who’s in control … I say who, I say when, I say how much.”

However, Oliver Savile as Edward is emotionally distant; it is unclear whether this is down to the book, direction, or his acting choices but Edward feels very beige. He cuts a fine figure as the charming businessman and his vocal delivery is silky smooth, but the chemistry between the two leads is a little undercharged, which only serves to highlight the transactional nature of their story arc.

It seems that throughout the creative process, there has been a conscious decision to mismatch styles in terms of movement and musicality and this is never more apparent than during Luckiest Girl In The World. While Davies’ voice rings out like a bell in this scene and the delivery is cute, Jerry Mitchell’s old-hat choreography simply doesn’t match the music, even if its delivery is flawless. The sparseness of the set leaves Davies looking tiny and she feels very exposed.

The musical score also has this problem, though the show is well-cast and the company’s dynamism makes it work. Although the technical delivery of the score is flawless, Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance’s score is somewhat forgettable. While Adams’ guitar-heavy composition does enough to allow the score to stand apart from generic musical theatre fodder, the lyrics let it down. Vallance has missed an opportunity to enhance the production by embroidering the score with lyrics that are simultaneously sickly sweet yet at times downright sleazy. Lines like Let’s see you with your buttons undone and It’s ironic because you both screw people for money paint a picture of Vivian’s seedy past. Contrast this with the bubblegum feel of Welcome to Our World and we have a clear demonstration ofthe haphazard construction of the score. This is perhaps a musical mirroring of the story arc with two very contrasting styles merging to create the score but it feels two-dimensional.

While the show has its issues in terms of pacing and musicality, it is highly entertaining and the cast are incredible. If you are looking for high-brow, intellectual theatre, this show is not for you. If, however, you are seeking a fun night out full of nostalgia, this musical is highly consumable and perfectly entertaining.

Ultimately, the draw of this show will be its homage to the Julia Roberts classic and fans of the movie will be thoroughly charmed.

Runs until 30 March 2024 and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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