CHATTING with Mother Hutch’s carer on Monday morning, discussions turned to this week’s reviews. Pretty Woman. “Ah, I loved the film. I know every line. Especially the funny scenes,” she said.
And there you have it: exactly why Pretty Woman still appeals 34 years after the Julie Roberts/Richard Gere rom.com directed by Garry Marshall from a screenplay by J. F. Lawton.
Tickets have been selling like weiners (or ‘wieners’ according to the sign on David Rockwell’s set) for the run at the Grand Opera House, where Monday night’s excited atmosphere will be matched throughout a packed week.
Women dominated, often gathered in groups, of differing ages too, such remains the pull of this Cinderella meets My Fair Lady tale.
The book is by Marshall and Lawton, so no surprises to discover that all the favourite lines are still there. So too is the iconic red dress; the moment where the jewellery box snaps back on Vivian; the flip of the opera glasses; the finale where vertigo-suffering Edward must climb the fire escape to reach Vivian.
So too, the late-1980s setting on Sunset Boulevard, indicated by a reminder to switch off mobile phones that weren’t the norm back then, and later Edward using a phone the size of a brick.
What’s new is two-fold: a “blazing rock score” by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams (booked to play Dalby Forest on June 21, by the way) and Jim Vallance, and slick direction and choreography Tony Award-winning Jerry Mitchell.
Make that three-fold: 2016 Strictly Come Dancing champ Ore Oduba plays two characters: Happy Man, the narrator-cum-Sunset Boulevard wheeler-dealer in the spirit of Oliver Twist’s Fagin, as well as smooth operator Barnard Thompson, the all-seeing-yet-turn-a-blind-eye manager of the Beverly Wilshire hotel, where Edward and Vivian hook up.
That’s two Odubas for the price of one, making him the best value in this show, especially in his song-and-dance routine with Noah Harrison’s scene-stealing bell boy Giulio. The moment when Oduba’s Mr Thompson says he has previous experience of ballroom dancing, delivered with a knowing eye, is the best in show.
Spoiler alert, Oduba even pops up in a third role, as an egregious Rodeo Drive fashion boutique owner. Again, there is that look, not so much breaking down theatre’s fourth wall, as being aware of the audience being one step ahead.
Pretty Woman is the one where, once upon a time in the late ’80s, Hollywood hooker Vivian Ward (Amber Davies, but not on press night) meets billionaire businessman Edward Lewis (Oliver Savile) on the strip.
As the line goes, they “both screw for money”, she by the world’s oldest profession, he by picking off failing companies’ assets: the ruthless “scrap dealer”, as his lawyer calls him.
“Be swept up in their romance in this dazzlingly theatrical take on a love story for the ages – and get to know these iconic characters in a whole new way,” invites the show’s description on the Grand Opera House website.
A whole new way? Well, only in that they now sing, a transformation in the tradition of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion becoming My Fair Lady, but with better songs (by Frederick Loewe and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner).
Understudying for Davies, Sydnie Hocknell’s Vivian is sassy, more than savvy, as resolute and eager to learn as Eliza Doolittle, but with street smarts too, especially in her bond with Kit de Luca (Annell Odartey, understudying for Natalie Paris).
Savile’s Edward is arrogant, presumptuous, undeniably successful, heartless, decisive, but a tender piano player too. If Vivian’s life is “changed forever”, then so too is Edward’s, a point made more forcefully in the musical.
If you loved the film, then Pretty Woman will work its fairytale magic once more, but the songs don’t rival any of Adams’s hits. Nor, do they match professional debutante Lila Falce-Bass’s Violetta singing Sempre Libera from La Traviata in the opera scene. How could they?!
Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman makes a guest appearance, teased just before the interval, but held back to the walkdown, where it feels tagged on, when it could have had much more impact when Vivian tries on dresses in Rodeo Drive. Maybe that was not allowed, however.
Pretty Woman The Musical, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm nightly, plus 2.30pm Wednesday and Saturday matinees. Box office: atgtickets.com/york