London Theatre Review: Pretty Woman
| By Jack Hudson
(Updated on Mar 6, 2020)
It’s easy to forget that there’s a little darkness to the 90s classic, Pretty Woman – the sex-worker-meets-business-magnate romance that earned widespread acclaim with no small thanks to Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.
The original script for Pretty Woman was bleak, in fact... it didn’t end well at all. Far from finding her ticket off the boulevard, Vivian Ward was finally tossed out of a car and given a wad of money as a parting gift. No surprise then that the director Garry Marshall had to opt for a feel-good ending to lift the drear of the old screenplay, 3,000 – more art movie than rom-com. The result was the film we all know and love. That stylish tale for the ages in which Prince Charming rescues his damsel and his damsel ‘rescues [him] right back’.
On paper it could’ve all been so typically twee and Hollywood. Then came the wide smile, boundless charisma and cyclonic humanity of Julia Roberts. She filled Vivian with an infectious defiance and warmth, which was essential to the success of the film. Beneath the optimism and elegant storytelling she conveyed the gritty reality of the sex trade and the pain of those who are forced into it. Roberts’ Vivian became a symbol of defiance, against the odds – ‘I sold my body but I never sold my soul’.
In the stage adaptation Roberts’ large, elegant shoes are handed to Aimie Atkinson, fresh from a starring role in Six The Musical. Atkinson is the case of fireworks at the heart of this production, unstoppable, restless, beautiful and hilarious – an energetic upsurge of humour and human dignity. Alongside Atkinson, Danny Mac (White Christmas, Amelie) holds a steadfast, poised and note-perfect Edward – a suave, uncomplicated man made rich after scavenging the scraps of failing companies. Mac has brief moments of pathos as he mourns the loss of his father, but, of course, Atkinson draws fixation at every turn, carving a dizzying trail through every scene. And let’s not forget the welcome appearances of The Happy Man/Mr Thompson – Bob Harms (Come From Away, Footloose) – whose charisma guides the show and who also offers an almost show-stealing ballroom dance scene with Alex Charles’ fresh-faced lobby boy.
Subtle changes in lighting serve to highlight quieter moments and movements of emotion. There’s also plenty of time for those explosive big numbers – all coordinated with cool precision by two-time Tony Award-winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Hairspray). Though for all its subtlety and subversive charm, the stage adaptation of Pretty Woman: The Musical (playing now at the Piccadilly Theatre) softens all edges and rides the irresistible current of Grammy winner Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance's music (Summer of ’69, Heaven) - all the way through the sun-baked vistas of 80s Los Angeles, sweeping through opera halls and penthouses and then back again to the ramshackle tiers of Sunset Boulevard. It’s camp, it’s fun and it’s very hard not to enjoy it!
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