Review: Broadway in Austin’s Pretty Woman: The Musical

Imitation isn't always the sincerest form of flattery

Adam Pascal and Jessie Davidson in the national tour of Pretty Woman: The Musical (Photo by Steve Roberts)

Roy Orbison’s titular tune may be on your lips, but “why?” will be the question in your head while sitting through the mediocre, musical makeover of the 1990 hit flick Pretty Woman.

The show opened on Broadway in 2018 to generally negative reviews, received more of the same on national tour for the past year, and is now (exasperated sigh) in our own backyard.

It’s not like the film is going anywhere anytime soon. This tale about a rich, emotionally constipated businessman named Edward looking for a $300/night escort, and a plucky, big-hearted hooker named Vivian who is looking for a White Knight to do some happily-ever-aftering, is a mainstay on Disney+. It can be rented for cheap from outlets like Vudu, Google Play, and Redbox, and purchased for cheaper from the guy selling DVDs and Blu-rays from a shopping cart outside the CVS.

No, the making of this musical feels like a good, old fashioned cash grab; an opportunity to capitalize on the sentimentality of the same people who can’t hear Orbison’s song without seeing Julia Roberts and Richard Gere and who helped turn Pretty Woman into the fourth highest-grossing film in the United States in 1990. Evidence to this effect can be found in the libretto (written by the film’s director, Garry Marshall, and its writer, J.F. Lawton). It sticks so closely to the screenplay – we’re talking witty line by witty line, iconic moment by iconic moment – that the audience knows what will happen in the play before it happens and can recite the dialogue verbatim as it’s happening. The music and lyrics wedged between plot points (written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance) are so bland and cliché that they offer nothing new or unexpected and tend to slow the storytelling more than enhance or advance it. In short, the musical lacks the spontaneity of a better and more original work.

The show is so saturated with gorgeous window-dressing that the recorded message at the top of the show should remind us to turn off cellphones and blink upon occasion.
What it supplies instead are bells and whistles. The show is so saturated with gorgeous window-dressing that flies on and off the stage (designed by David Rockwell), neon lights (designed by Kenneth Posner and Philip S. Rosenberg), and eye-popping costuming that mimics that found in the film (designed by Gregg Barnes) that the recorded message at the top of the show should remind us to turn off cellphones and blink upon occasion. It’s all so mesmerizing, which seems to be the point.

But if you squint through the pretty things and the perpetual motion, you’ll see that many of the performances lack spontaneity as well. The talented ensemble playing an assortment of street walkers sing and dance up a storm, but tend to do it by rote, as if the script and score weren’t even interesting enough to keep them engaged for two-and-a-half hours each night. Broadway veteran Adam Pascal, who has played Edward on Broadway and since the start of the national tour, is either on longevity-induced autopilot or has always been fighting above his weight in a role for which he is simply not right. He brings a remarkable voice to the stage but zero energy and no rapport with his co-star, who happens to be the Vivian understudy, Carissa Gaughran, for the duration of the Austin engagement. The show and her performance suffer from what little Pascal offers to play against.

While many of the film’s charming moments that feature minor characters have been replaced by production numbers, those song-and-dance opportunities are terrific. Vivian’s roommate, Kit, is played by Jessie Crouch, and her big, bold belt and dynamic personality are given ample opportunity to take over the stage. A thoroughly engaging triple threat performer, Travis Ward-Osborne, plays the film’s uptight hotel manager Mr. Thompson, the street philosopher (in an expanded role), among others, and he raises the heat and the energy in the room. This is particularly true in the big production numbers he shares with the delightful Trent Soyster as the bellboy, Giulio.

And yet this token innovation is not enough to save Pretty Woman: The Musical. Viv’s famous line from the film – spoken while flashing her new outfits and Edward’s platinum credit card at the high-end boutique that had refused her service – has become more than just a much-awaited moment in the musical. “Big mistake! Big! Huge!” could have been this review’s title.

Broadway in Austin’s Pretty Woman: The Musical
Bass Center Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Dr., 512-471-2787
Through Jan. 22
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Bob Abelman
Top 10 Memorable Moments in Austin Theatre
Top 10 Memorable Moments in Austin Theatre
Highs and lows from Austin’s stages in their first real post-pandemic year

Dec. 15, 2023

Review: Broadway in Austin's <i>Six</i>
Broadway in Austin's Six
Flash over formidability defines this pop historical fiction

Oct. 4, 2023


Broadway in Austin, Pretty Woman: The Musical

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle