Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli in "Pretty Woman: The Musical." Photo by Matthew Murphy
The stamp of rocker Bryan Adams is all over “Pretty Woman: The Musical,” for which he wrote the music and lyrics alongside fellow Canadian Jim Vallance. Its score is populated by booming, anthemic songs reminiscent of 1983’s “Heaven,” which Adams composed with Vallance.
In the musical adaptation of “Pretty Woman,” now playing at the Civic Theatre downtown in a Broadway San Diego presentation, the majority of these reverberating ballads are rendered by Adam Pascal, playing the role of Edward that was originated by Richard Gere in the hit 1990 film with Julia Roberts. Pascal might as well be Adams in a gray suit, especially when he’s soloing on the likes of the musical’s “Something About Her” and “Freedom.”
This is a LOUD show – no two ways about it. Louder than it should be. Its 16-song score could have benefited from the lighter, buoyant touch of Roy Orbison’s classic “Pretty Woman” tune. (That does turn up in this production, but not when you expect it to.) Not only does Pascal sing to the rafters, but during “You and I,” in which Edward takes prostitute Vivian (Olivia Valli) to the opera, Amma Osei belts out an aria that could awaken the ghosts in nearby Horton Plaza.
The most entertaining and least histrionic of the show’s musical numbers are those featuring Kyle Taylor Parker, who plays multiple roles under the character description “Happy Man.” Two of them come back to back in Act One: “On a Night Like This” and “Don’t Forget to Dance.” Whether he’s the hotel manager who teaches Vivian how to tango or the unofficial emcee presiding at the opening of each act, Parker is delightful. Most impressive, he’s able to overcome the cliché that is the exhorting “Never Give Up on a Dream” in Act Two.
By now you’re wondering: “What about the Vivian character, the role that turned Julia Roberts into a star? How does Olivia Valli fare in Roberts’ knee-high boots?”
Just fine, it turns out. Valli is deft with her comic moments and actually more believable as a woman of the evening than Roberts was. There’s a disconnect, however, when she’s given a song to sing, and naturally there are many of them in “Pretty Woman: The Musical.” The Vivian singing sounds like a completely different person than the Vivian speaking. That’s no knock on Valli, who has an excellent voice. It’s a consequence of turning “Pretty Woman” into a musical. Vivian’s best numbers are those with fellow hooker Kit (Jessica Crouch), whose own street wisdom is off the charts.
The show’s book by Garry Marshall (who directed the movie) and J.F. Lawton (who wrote it) rarely deviates from the big-screen romantic comedy. Many of the exact lines are resurrected. Thirty two years later, it’s still a problematic setup – a prostitute’s Cinderella dream coming true – and just as illogical practically from start to finish. The appeal then as now is in the recognizable costumes, the Beverly Hills backdrop and Vivian’s fish-out-of-water exposure to the rich and entitled.
“Pretty Woman: The Musical” lasted only a year on Broadway, but if the cheering reception it got on the night I was there is any indication, it may be in for a healthy second life as a touring show. A lot of folks, it would seem, want the fairy tale.
“Pretty Woman the Musical” runs through Sunday at the Civic Theatre, downtown.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.