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Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Charming ‘Pretty Woman’ Graces the Hippodrome

If you liked the 1990 movie Pretty Woman starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, you will love the musical version that is making a brief stop at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre as part of a national tour. That extremely popular rom com grossed a cool $463 mil from a mere $14 million investment. Yikes!

This iteration features music and lyrics by Bryan Adams (“Summer of 1969” and “Everything I Do” among many others) and songwriting partner Jim Vallance, and a book by the legendary Garry Marshall and J. F. Lawton. The story and dialogue match the film nearly verbatim. And Gregg Barnes’ costume design is also tied directly to the film version.  

So, if it’s 1980’s nostalgia you are seeking, this will fit the bill. If you’re hoping for a fresh rendering that reflects a more contemporary treatise on gender and class stereotyping, you won’t find it here.

What you will find, however, is a gorgeous, vibrant production that is well paced under the meticulous direction and choreography of multiple Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell. It also features Adam Pascal as the male lead who played the role of Edward Lewis in Pretty Woman on Broadway, and you might recall his portraying the original Roger Davis in Rent for which he received a Tony nomination as well as other major credits.

The show presents a rather straight-line story that conjures up both Cinderella and Pygmalion. Wealthy businessman Edward Lewis meets plucky prostitute Vivian Ward on Hollywood Boulevard seeking directions to the posh Beverly Wilshire Hotel where he will be staying while he executes a lucrative business transaction. The tomboy Vivian convinces him to drive him there using his lawyer’s car since she is a big aficionado of cars.

From there, he procures her services, not for a sexual liaison, but as a companion, an escort so to speak, as he navigates the highbrow social functions of LA. It turns into a weeklong arrangement, and as this proceeds, Vivian recognizes the need to find her true self and worth and to improve her life. Meanwhile, Edward slowly transforms from a cold, rather heartless mogul with unlimited money to a softer soul with a heart that is ultimately unearthed. Needless to say, they fall for each other, and that journey forms the gist of the story.

"...a gorgeous, vibrant production..."

The success of Pretty Woman can be derived from a combination of a sweet romantic fairytale, a brilliantly aesthetic stage, and exceptional performances by the leads and ensemble.

There is a nice mixture of 80’s style up-tempo musical numbers and ballads throughout. Adams and Vallance’s score is sufficiently tuneful with the lyrics neatly augmenting the plot by exploring the characters’ feelings. Some of the songs are particularly entertaining, such as “Welcome to Hollywood,” a snappy dance number that opens the show and sets the mood, “Anywhere but Here,” “Something About Her,” “I Could Get Used to This,” “On a Night Like Tonight,” “Freedom” and “I Can’t Go Back,” just to name a few. The outstanding vocals by the cast and the excellent support by the six-piece orchestra conducted by Daniel Klintworth who offers 80’s style instrumentation enhance the musical experience.

As the attractive hooker Vivian, Olivia Valli is superb. The character is gritty and street-smart yet suffers from low self-esteem.  But Vivian seeks to improve her lot, and during the time she is employed as Edward’s “beck and call girl,” Vivian discovers she can indeed improve.

While Edward takes her around the social circuit and fits her into lovely outfits, she realizes she is out of this league and wants to make something of her life on her own. This is reminiscent of Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady.  Vivian talks about her dream of being Cinderella and being rescued by a prince. In the end, it is she who rescues him in an emotional fire escape-based conclusion.  

It is a rather complex role and Ms. Valli pulls it off splendidly. Her vocals shine in many of the show’s numbers including “Anywhere but Here,” “I Could Get Used to This,” “This is My Life” and the particularly moving “I Can’t Go Back.”

Adam Pascal is quite familiar with the role of Edward Lewis as stated earlier, he played it on Broadway. He competently and in a low-key manner portrays the cold, detached tycoon who made a bundle dismantling companies and selling them piece by piece. He doesn’t feel relationships are worth the trouble so his involvement with Vivian was more for display.

But as they get to know each other more in his penthouse at the Beverly Wilshire and the various parties and dinners, the chemistry begins to develop. Edward experiences a softening of his persona whereby he seeks connection and not live merely for the profit. In the end, he demonstrates he does indeed have a heart. His onstage chemistry with Vivian is excellent and critical to the success of the show.

Mr. Pascal’s vocals are masterful. Displaying a pitch-perfect tenor voice, he soars in “Something About Her” and “Freedom.”

On the night the show was reviewed, Michael Dalke moved from understudy to play both Happy Man, a street hustler selling maps to the stars’ homes on Hollywood Boulevard and Mr. Thompson, the manager of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. As a matter of fact, it seems that Mr. Dalke pops up everywhere including the orchestra pit. Normally, Kyle Taylor Parker plays the roles.

Mr. Thompson befriends Vivian and helps her to become less conspicuous as a prostitute. Kind and gentle, he forms a warm bond with her, acting as a kind of fairy godfather to her helping her fit in more with the folks that Edward surrounds himself with. This connection ultimately helps lead Vivian and Edward to their inevitable falling in love.

Mr. Dalke, a veritable scene stealer, was magnificent throughout and garnered the loudest ovation at curtain call. His singing is wonderful and is especially entertaining in “Welcome to Hollywood,” “Never Give Up on a Dream,” “On a Night Like Tonight” and “Don’t Forget to Dance.”  

Vivian’s best friend and roommate Kit De Luca is played deliciously by Jessica Crouch. Also a prostitute, Kit got Vivian involved with the profession. Supportive of Vivian and sporting an accent that is more New Jersey Turnpike than Hollywood Boulevard, Kit also has low self-esteem. She manages to turn her life around at the end by being admitted to the police academy. Ms. Crouch performs well in the funny production number “Rodeo Drive.”  

As Edward’s cutthroat attorney, Phillip Stuckey, Matthew Stocke plays the role convincingly. He is a close and longtime friend of Edward but is angry over Edward’s decision not to dismantle a shipyard company without his counsel and sexually assaults Vivian as a response. That company that Edward saves and becomes a partner is owned by David Morse who is played well by Alex Gibbs.

A shout-out goes to cute-as-a-button Trent Soyster who amusingly plays Giuluio, a bellboy from the hotel. His obvious dancing skills are on display in various forms while in that character and in the ensemble. Also noteworthy is Amma Osei as Violetta who showcases her spectacular mezzo-soprano vocals in the production number “You and I.”

The remainder of the cast and ensemble are excellent adding to the quality of the show.

David Rockwell’s scenic design is clever and functional. Using dropdown scenery and a multitude of set pieces, the scenes transform smoothly from one to another and the stage is pleasant to the eye.

Kenneth Posner and Phillip S. Rosenberg teamed up to present one of the best lighting designs I’ve seen. There had to be at least 50 shades of pastels splashing onto the stage denoting scene changes, time of day, mood changes, etc. It is a remarkable display that adds so much to the experience.

Pretty Woman is a marvelously entertaining production encompassing a sweet but familiar storyline, solid music, exceptional performances by a talented cast and a terrific crew. It is a must-see and yes, a version Roy Orbison’s iconic “Oh Pretty Woman” is eventually performed.

Running time. Two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.

Pretty Woman: The Musical runs through April 10 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit Ticketmaster or the Baltimore Hippodrome.


Photos by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

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