Now showing at the Piccadilly Theatre, the musical adaptation of the 1990 Gary Marshall and J. F. Lawton film, featuring a score by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, is pure, unadulterated fun.
Starring Aimie Atkinson, Danny Mac, Rachael Wooding and Bob Harms
There’s a phrase – please don’t ask me who said it, I don’t know. But my boyfriend quotes it to me on a weekly basis, so I guess it must be a musical theatre thing? It goes something like this: “If you aim for a 10, and get a 7; you’ve failed. If you aim for a 7 and make a 7, you’ve succeeded”. This certainly applies to Pretty Woman. Is it to be appreciated as a work of art, or musical genius, like Hamilton, perhaps? No. It isn’t. But it also wasn’t written to be such, and it delivers on what it says on the tin: it’s good fun, and it’s a brilliant adaptation of the film it is based upon.
Pretty Woman tells the story of Vivian Ward (Aimie Atkinson), a vivacious and liberated Hollywood prostitute and Edward Lewis (Danny Mac), an affluent businessman. Following a chance encounter on Hollywood Boulevard, Edward elects to hire Vivian as an escort for a week, in order to accompany him to his business and social engagements. From here, a relationship blooms.
Let’s start with the music. After all, it is a musical. The music and lyrics are written by Bryan Adams (yes, that Bryan Adams) and Jim Vallance. They serve to enhance the time period in which the musical is set, with heavy guitar and synth reminiscent of the late ’80s/early ’90s. Each of the songs are a delightful pop-rock fare, though I do believe that the songs sound better in context within the musical than on the soundtrack.
The book for the musical is also particularly strong, being penned by the original writer of the film, J.F. Lawton, along with the director of the film, Garry Marshall. The book is full of laugh out loud moments, though it does perhaps stick too closely to the film, with many sections of dialogue entirely lifted, verbatim. While the script for the film is undeniably brilliant, it is worth noting that this was written thirty years ago, so you would think that some updating would be in order. Having said that, as somebody who hadn’t seen the film, these moments were played entirely organically and still worked in the same way that they originally did, though perhaps if you were an avid fan of the film it’d feel like Groundhogs Day.
Visually, the stage looks impressive. Large set pieces are used to great effect, as well as a small lift downstage. Bright and colourful lights also aid the action, and there is not a projection in sight. Furthermore, the choreography is slick and energetic, enlivening even some of the more middling numbers. While this aspect of the performance was brilliant, sometimes the mix was overpowering, making it tricky to understand what some of the performers were singing, especially when multiple things were happening at once.
This brings us onto the performers. A huge amount of my enjoyment of the show was because of the way that it was performed. Aimie Atkinson is absolutely brilliant as Vivian Ward, and does not fall into the trap of trying to imitate Julia Roberts’ performance from the film. She plays her with a childlike glee and enjoyment, while also able to peel away those layers to show the hurt that lies underneath. On top of that, her voice is phenomenal, delivering every single song without any seeming effort. Her live performance surpasses that of the recording.
Playing opposite her is Danny Mac, as Edward Lewis. Ordinarily, I know that this has been a part that has been played by an older man. I think that casting somebody who is more of an age match is partly what makes the story work for me. Especially in the current social and political climate, it almost feels weird to see an older, rich businessman hire a young, impoverished prostitute. The power dynamic just doesn’t sit well with me, and while this adaptation does nothing within the book to alleviate that difference in power, the symmetry in the ages of the actors (both Atkinson and Mac are 32) helps their relationship to seem more equal, even though he holds significant monetary power over her. Another benefit of the musical, here, is that it allows us to see from the first moment that they encounter each other, that Edward is interested in Vivian via song. He is envious of her and her sense of liberation and freedom, instead of particularly lecherous in his advances. Mac manages to play Edward’s conflict at trying to convey to Vivian how he feels without it appearing as if Edward is taking advantage of her. Indeed, it is notable that it is never Edward who initiates any of the sexual contact between the two of them, instead it is Vivian. When they break the no kissing rule, it is Vivian who breaks it, when it was her rule that she instigated, and not Edward. Whether I would interpret this entire situation differently were Edward to be played by an older, unattractive man, I have no idea, so perhaps I need to examine my own personal bias on the matter. This is, however, the first time that I have seen both Vivian and Edward as the same age, as the film stars were 28 years different, and the Broadway cast, Samantha Barks and Andy Karl, had 26 years between them. I don’t know why, and I am unable to articulate it, but seeing a man the same age treating a woman in a supermarket with his credit card seems a little bit less You must wear what I view appropriate than when the man is two decades older than her. Other than the casting, however, the book has done very little to remedy the power dynamic between the two main characters.
Pretty Woman does what a musical should do: entertain. It is just the right length, telling the story completely and in a captivating way. It is full to the brim of engaging and energetic musical numbers, nicely complemented by the set and choreography. Finally, the performances of the leads, Aimie Atkinson and Danny Mac, are truly sublime and help sell the entire show. Absolutely one to watch, especially if you are a fan on the show.
Pretty Woman is now showing at the Piccadilly Theatre, and is booking until January 2021. Moulin Rouge will be taking over the Piccadilly Theatre in March 2021. You can book by following the link here.