2016 Strictly Come Dancing champ Ore Oduba was last seen on the Grand Opera House stage in fishnets as nerdy, preppy American student Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Show.
A month shy of two years later, he returns to the Cumberland Street theatre in York next week in “the ultimate rom-com, live on stage”: Pretty Woman The Musical.
What’s more, audiences can look forward to Oduba at the double, playing not only hotel manager Barnard Thompson but also Happy Man on tour from Tuesday to Saturday.
“Mr Thompson exists in the movie, but what they’ve done for the musical is create this dual role, where you’re also Happy Man, something of a narrator, who’s kind of the Fagin of Hollywood Boulevard, where two worlds meet.”
Set once upon a time in the late 1980s, as a Cinderella tale for the modern age, Pretty Woman connects the worlds of Hollywood hooker Vivian Ward (played by Amber Davies) and entrepreneur Edward Lewis (Oliver Savile).
“Happy Man brings the magic to Vivian’s turnaround – and you do have to sprinkle a little magic dust on that transformation,” says Ore. “That’s the kind of romance that people really get behind. Audiences really love the human empowerment story: the villains of the piece have to leave the theatre in hooded cloaks as everyone really gets behind Vivian.”
The BBC presenter turned actor, 38, is four months into the 12-month run of the debut British tour of a musical featuring original music and lyrics by Canadian rock star and Grammy Award winner Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance and a book by Garry Marshall and the 1990 film’s screenwriter, J F Lawton.
Direction and choreography is by two-time Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell, for whom Ore auditioned. “I was aware of the show going into the West End in 2019, where it was such a massive success, and there’s always hype when a musical goes on tour from the West End,” he says.
“The audition call came through in February last year, and it’s just crazy because the life of an actor means you’re a freelance really and you never know what will be around the corner, but to get that call come through when it did can make it quite scary.
“I’d already done a couple of auditions in front of Americans, but Jerry Mitchell is such a charismatic man, so it’s intimidating. He’s got an excellent poker face, but I made him laugh – which is not always good, but in this case it was.”
The musical adds another level to Pretty Woman. “I think you have to be aware, as we say at the beginning, that this is a story set in the Eighties, but if you just did the movie on stage, it wouldn’t quite work,” says Ore.
“What Jerry has done is add meat to that story, going through the rom-com we love but aspiring to be something more, then adding the incredible choreography and a wonderful new score, with some beautiful songs by Bryan Adams.
“What we didn’t know, on the very last day of rehearsals, when things get to wind down after a busy four weeks, was why the resident director was standing gingerly at the door of the rehearsal room. He looked kind of nervous, then said, ‘Bryan Adams is here’!”
What could have been “quite a relaxed day, collecting things in bags” was transformed. “It became an exciting day, performing in front of Bryan, and he loved it. That really set us up to go off into the country,” says Ore.
He embraces the challenge each week of being on tour. “What’s wonderful about touring – and I’ve been doing it for seven years, which was never planned – is how, at the start of each week, you get a brand now burst of energy from the show rolling into a new town, looking forward to the reaction you’ll get at each place,” he says.
“From the production point of view, you really get into it. You start by sticking to what you rehearse, but at the same time, when you have a show that’s such a crowd pleaser, and with me playing the narrator, you do get different reactions and a different energy from the audience that we like to play with.
“Pretty Woman transcends time and culture; it’s just in our fabric, and it’s not just nostalgia. People will want to dial into that, so there are touch points, but at the end of the day, it’s an incredible new musical with great new music and a story that people love, which we bring alive every night, transporting them into a different world.
“That world may be different from today, and you may have to put today’s world aside and put your faith in the story.”
Happy Man sums up Ore’s experience on tour. “Taking on a job, it’s about positivity, especially if I’m going to be doing it for a year, where the energy pushes us forward,” he says. “I’m looking forward to 12 months of positivity!”
Pretty Woman The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, February 20 to 24, 7.30pm, plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york
Copyright of The Press, York