Review - Pretty Woman: The Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre
There have been plenty of musicals about prostitution on Broadway, like the 60s classic Sweet Charity, set in a dance hall where the hostesses available for hire as dance companions say, "Who dances? We defend ourselves to music" and The Life, a 1997 show that portrayed a gritty, pre-Disneyfied Times Square and the hard realities of street sexual exploitation and its affiliations with drug interests. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, on the other hand, which premiered in 1978 and became a film with Dolly Parton starring as the whorehouse madame, offered a jiggling, country-and-western take on a brothel that presented it virtually as innocuous family entertainment.
But Pretty Woman: The Musical, based on the 1990 film that starred Julia Roberts as a Hollywood Boulevard street sex worker and Richard Gere as her billionaire investor executive client, is something else, seeking to combine a hard-edged reality with a real romance and happy ending (and not the kind that you might be offered in a massage parlour, either, on this same boulevard).
In a post-Weinstein world, there are inevitably fears that the rich, entitled male might be seen to be exploiting the younger, more vulnerable female for his own purposes, seeking uncomplicated companionship and sex on demand during his time sealing a company take-over bid in LA, in return for a comparatively modest fee (for him). Early on, there's a slightly icky scene where she takes a cushion from the piano stool so that she can be more comfortable as she sinks to her knees to service him.
But this is also a Cinderella-meets-Pygmalion story, in which the street prostitute is transformed into a society princess, cleaned up by a much-improved wardrobe (bought for her, of course, by the man) and eventually redeemed by acknowledging and meeting her needs as well as his. There may be a bit of wish-fulfillment to all of this - the score and book are both written by all-male teams, and the show its also written and directed by a man - but it also has a happy, eventually feel-good vibe to it.
In the late Garry Marshall and JF Lawson's book (who respectively directed and wrote the original film), it is the woman who holds the cards - and the man who has the bigger journey to travel, from self-imposed isolation to finding real love. It's a relationship that ends up transforming them both - he even ends up making different, more moral business choices, too.
But what makes it ultimately both digestible and credible are the sympathetic performances of the two leads. Yes, of course, it helps that Danny Mac is no physical monster in the style of Weinstein but easy on both the eyes and ears - and as with Sunset Boulevard in which he recently toured the UK, he removes his shirt for the undeniable pleasure of the audience. But Mac succeeds in having plenty of charm as well as pecs appeal. Aimie Atkinson, in the Julia Roberts role of Vivian Ward, is ironically less objectified than him, and has a perfect combination of quirky vulnerability and the strength of a survivor; and there's good support from Rachael Wooding and Neil McDermott as friends to each of them.
Jerry Mitchell, who has previously been responsible as director and/or choreographer to such film to hit stage properties as Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde, The Full Monty, Hairspray and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, knows just how to make these transformations work. He ups the energy and momentum throughout. If Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance's score lacks serious break-out hits of its own, there's at least a curtain call reprise of Roy Orbison's famous 1964 hit single that gave the original film its title to send you out on a high.
Pretty Woman: The Musical is booking at the Piccadilly Theatre until 2nd January 2021.
Pretty Woman: The Musical tickets are available now.