In this stage musical adaptation of the 1990 film Pretty Woman, Sweet Charity meets My Fair Lady, but with a happier ending. The story follows rich investor Edward and Hollywood Boulevard sex worker Vivian, whom he asks for directions and then ends up hiring for her company (and extras) for the six days he is in LA.
The plot is potentially problematic – it portrays a world in which a man asserts his economic dominance over a woman to buy her time and favours, while she uses sex to get out of her own difficulties (she’s being evicted from her apartment for rent arrears).
But in the musical’s hard-edged but soft-centred book, Garry Marshall and JF Lawson (who directed and wrote the original film respectively) give Vivian all the agency. It is Edward who has the bigger journey to travel, from self-imposed isolation to a fuller engagement with the world as represented by Vivian’s life force.
So far, so familiar. But Jerry Mitchell’s peppy production is propelled by the sheer professionalism of its delivery, the attractive soft-rock songs of Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, and the chemistry of its leads.
British performer Samantha Barks is simultaneously tough and vulnerable as Vivian, while Andy Karl has an alpha-male sturdiness that makes the potentially unsympathetic character of Edward at once edgy and warm. There’s also scene-stealing work – and a fierce, belting voice – from Orfeh as Vivian’s best friend.
Jerry Mitchell, whether as director or choreographer, has past form with musical versions of popular movies, from Kinky Boots to Legally Blonde, all of which transferred to London. Pretty Woman is sure to follow them.