Review: ‘Pretty Woman’ follows familiar path during musical version now at WAC

The Company of Pretty Woman: The Musical (Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

We’ve seen this one before – both as a movie and as a stage production.

Pretty Woman,” the musical now onstage at the Walton Arts Center, is the second show in the venue’s Broadway series for 2022-23. It follows the production of “My Fair Lady,” which tells the story of a young woman’s chance encounter with a powerful man from different social and economic circles. But the woman’s ascent into a new station in life doesn’t come without its challenges – and charms.

Though not related by script, screenwriter J.F. Lawton and director Garry Marshall told a version of the same story in their 1990 movie “Pretty Woman,” a romantic comedy about a sex worker who meets an uber-wealthy businessman and is asked to attend his social obligations for a week. That much-loved movie was brought to Broadway in August 2018. It closed a year later.

The stage update used work by Lawton, but was directed by Jerry Mitchell after Marshall died in 2016 before the production launched. Songwriting duties were given to Bryan Adams, a strong fit considering how popular the Canadian singer/songwriter was when the movie debuted.

“Pretty Woman” the musical follows the general outline of the movie. The audience first sees sex worker Vivian Ward out on the street, working to replace rent money that her roommate Kit De Luca has partied away. Vivian is introduced to wealthy businessman Edward Lewis, who can’t drive a car with a manual transmission. He needs help getting to his fancy hotel, and on a whim decides he also needs female companionship for the evening.

Their relationship moves in fits and starts from there. Edward is unbridled by Vivian’s straightforward attitude. Vivian asserts herself as someone who belongs, while also being told by clothing store workers that she doesn’t. Vivian and Edward begin sharing more time and more feelings, but are also working against a deadline – Edward is only in Los Angeles until a business deal closes.

“Pretty Woman”

When: Sept. 21-25, 2022
Where: Walton Arts Center, Fayetteville
Cost: Tickets start at $41 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or
Note: As of August 2022, there are no specific COVID safety requirements for those attending the show. Details can be found on the venue’s COVID policies page.

Billed in advertisements as a showcase for two Broadway stars, we only got to see one of them during Tuesday night’s opening performance. Olivia Valli – granddaughter of Frankie Valli – did not appear in her role as Vivian. The role was instead performed by understudy Nella Cole, who was up to the challenge. Edward was played – as billed – by Adam Pascal, who is Broadway royalty. He originated the role of Roger for the Broadway and West End productions of “Rent,” which made him a star. He would later originate the role of Radames in Tim Rice and Elton John’s “Aida,” in addition to numerous other credits.

He looks and sounds the part. During one of Pascal’s ballads, my wife turned to me to say “That’s Roger.” And indeed, his growl is unmistakable.

Kit’s role was performed by an understudy as well on Tuesday. Keyonna Knight filled in for the evening.

Each of the roles presents their own challenges. There are expectations for the characters based on what we know from the big screen version, and the dialogue is often lifted from the movie. Some of it translates flawlessly to the stage. A familiar scene where the hotel manager (played locally by Kyle Taylor Parker) works to teach Vivian some manners before a dinner meeting is transposed into a ballroom dancing scene that feels like the kind of all-encompassing dance number that every good musical should have. The costuming is spot-on too, from the throwback ‘80s denim to Vivian’s thigh-high black books and red blazer combo.

Amma Osei and The Company of Pretty Woman: The Musical (Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Other elements worked a little less well. Coming from the opulence of the onstage world created for “My Fair Lady,” it’s easy to see how bare the surroundings are for the production. It’s a mobile and fast-moving set, as characters often carried set pieces off as they exited the stage. It’s a fast-moving show all together, in fact – it ran under 2 and a half hours, including a 20-minute intermission.

But it could have been less. The weakest links were the songs – and I say this even if I’m forced to admit I generally like Bryan Adams’ songs. Through no fault of his, some of the music seemed forced into the action. And through some of his fault, the lyrics felt forced. When Vivian finds herself in the penthouse, for instance, her song of wonderment includes the line:

“I’ve got champagne on ice / I’m going to be treated really nice.”

We could do the same for some of Edward’s songs as well.

That’s not meant as a slight to the actors, who performed admirably, or to their voices. There’s even a miniature opera performance embedded in the show that highlights several ensemble voices and does so splendidly. But when an intimate moment is interrupted so Edward can sing a throwaway line like “There’s just something about her” before resuming the scene, it feels heavy-handed.

While the story advances through familiar territory where the central love interests learn something important about themselves from each other, there’s a reason that format has always proved popular. And here in Fayetteville, it’s being performed by Broadway talent. And it still feels like we got to see “Pretty Woman.” In their review of the show, Buzzfeed News declared that “If you love the movie, you’ll love the musical!”

Maybe I don’t need to say more than that.