Arts & Entertainment

‘Pretty Woman’ Dazzles at Oriental Theatre

Courtesy of Matthew MurphySamantha Barks and Steve Kazee as Vivian and Edward in Garry Marshall's stage adaptation of "Pretty Woman."

“Pretty Woman: The Musical” made its debut at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph St.) March 13, bringing director Garry Marshall’s beloved love story alive in musical form. Featuring original music and lyrics by Jim Vallance and Grammy Award winner Bryan Adams, the musical is sure to dazzle audiences.

Isle of Man born actress Samantha Barks stars alongside Tony and Grammy Award winner Steve Kazee, taking on the mighty task of portraying two iconic film personages, Vivian Ward and Edward Lewis. The previous namesakes are Hollywood stars Julia Roberts (“Notting Hill,” “Eat Pray Love”) and Richard Gere (“Unfaithful,” “Autumn in New York”) who have remained in the hearts of movie-goers decades after the release of their 1990 hit movie.

Barks and Kazee successfully put their own spin on their characters while remaining true to the original “Pretty Woman” characterizations. The popularity of the musical’s movie predecessor didn’t stop Barks and Kazee from giving unforgettable performances.

Vivian Ward is a strong-willed, charismatic hooker from Hollywood, who dreams of a life far away from Hollywood Boulevard. One evening, fate — in the form of New York businessman Edward Lewis — pulls up in a Lotus Esprit and crosses paths with Vivian, offering her a deal she can’t refuse. What’s intended to be a week of business turns into one of pleasure, as Vivian and Edward fall in love, rescuing each other from life’s sorrows.

Vivian’s drive and perseverance is inspiring; despite her struggles, she works toward finally moving out of her cockroach-infested apartment and finding a respectable job. Much of the musical is focused on the central theme as sung by the ensemble, “Don’t fight the dream; invite the dream.” These inspirational lyrics serve as a reminder to never give up on any aspiration, no matter how big or small it might be.

Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell is known for his skill in bringing films, such as “Legally Blonde,” to life on stage and his talent is evident in “Pretty Woman: The Musical.” Some might be wary this musical will miss the mark, but there’s no need to worry. Scenes and dialogue from the movie translate almost directly, including the iconic opera scene where Edward takes Vivian to her first opera show.

Costumes are equally spot-on in their replication. Vivian emerges onstage donning her signature blue and white cut-out outfit, complete with the glossy thigh-high boots and fisherman’s hat.

Vallance and Adams incorporated a wide variety of genres in the musical’s score, from head-bobbing pop tunes to rhythmic hip-hop numbers. While the pop songs seem a little too lively for the play’s mood and theme, the hip-hop tunes were especially appropriate for the musical’s ‘90s setting. Each song encapsulated Vivian and Edward’s love story, successfully complementing the play’s overall romantic ambiance.

“Pretty Woman: The Musical” features sensational vocals, not only from Barks and Kazee, but also from Tony Award nominee Orfeh, who stars as Vivian’s best friend, Kit De Luca. Orfeh’s musical talent is especially evident in her number, “Rodeo Drive.”

Characters are given another dimension through music, allowing them to passionately sing about opinions and feelings which are otherwise suppressed. If a Grammy isn’t enough proof of Kazee’s musical ability, his vocals in “You and I” may induce tears — they’re that marvelous. The heartfelt song beautifully captivates Edward’s love for Vivian, making it one of Kazee’s finest solos in the production.  

In addition to its melodious and excellently crafted score, “Pretty Woman: The Musical” delves deeper into the worlds of its characters. Secondary characters who are just as cherished as Vivian and Edward are given more attention throughout the musical.

Vivian’s best friend, Kit De Luca, as well as the hotel’s concierge, Mr. Thompson (Eric Anderson) and bellhop Giulio (Tommy Bracco), are all more developed than their film counterparts and given the spotlight they deserve. Anderson might have one of the toughest jobs, portraying not one, but several characters — including Mr. Thompson, Vivian’s landlord and a few ensemble roles. Bracco could very well be dubbed the musical’s most unforgettable actor for his stellar performance as Giulio. His lines and dance numbers are quirky and humorous, resulting in laughs and applause from the audience.

“Pretty Woman: The Musical” isn’t a movie-turned-musical that’ll leave audiences disappointed or regretful. Fans of the film will leave the theater asking themselves, “Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, who?” Even without prior knowledge of the film, the show will give audiences an entertaining and well-deserved night out.

“Pretty Woman” will play at the Oriental Theatre through April 15. Tickets can be purchased at Broadway in Chicago box offices by calling 800-775-2000 and online at Ticket prices range from $35-$105.

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