Review: Pretty Woman: The Musical, Piccadilly Theatre

Published in The Mail on Sunday March 7, 2020

If you’ve ever wondered how the 1990 movie Pretty Woman, which made a fairytale romcom out of a rich-man-meets-prostitute premise, would fare in the age of #MeToo – well, this production won’t help.

A Broadway musical, with a kind-of fun, kind-of trashy, basically bland rock score by Bryan Adams (yes, that Bryan Adams) and Jim Vallance, it does let Hollywood prostitute Vivian (the Julia Roberts role) punch a sleazy man herself. 

But in all other respects it’s a slavish remake that sidesteps the story’s ickier elements and pirouettes away from any recognition that things might have changed in the past 30 years.

If anything, Garry Marshall and J F Lawton’s rewrite is perkier than their original, with a lot of guff about following your dreams added in upbeat songs; even Vivian’s fellow sex worker Kit must now follow her true ambition of becoming, of all things, a policewoman.

In this feelgood world the only thing standing between a life of prostitution and total transformation is believing in yourself enough. It’s a garbage premise, albeit one that slots in easily with Kinky Boots director Jerry Mitchell’s sugar-coated style of entertainment.

But the musical does deliver what many will be after: a fun retread of swooned-over movie moments. The gorgeous dresses, the My Fair Lady-style makeover, the snooty shop assistants’ comeuppance, singing in the bath and crying at the opera… all is recreated, right down (or up) to the exact height of those patent-leather boots.

Strictly star Danny Mac is a neat choice as Richard Gere – sorry, Edward – being suitably suave, smooth, and a touch inscrutable. Aimie Atkinson has a great, muscular voice, but has the harder task of matching Julia Roberts’s glowing performance. 

The part demands quirkiness, but here it veers towards gabbling mania, and Atkinson lacks the wattage to illuminate this, frankly, pretty iffy role.

Mitchell’s production includes a few enjoyable dance numbers, with scene-stealers Bob Harms and Alex Charles as a hotel manager and bellboy who – with deadpan committed campness – teach Vivian how to dance. 

Harms also switches between various roles as a narrator for the show, helping things tick along nicely.

The set is made of flimsy flown-in scenery, and while it seems wise not to attempt to put fast cars and elaborate hotel lobbies on stage, it does leave this whirling consumerist fantasy looking more bargain-basement than high-end.

Where next?