Fox Theatre Reopens with Pretty Woman: The Musical, Which Is About 20 Years Too Late

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Pretty Woman: the Musical runs November 16 - 28, 2021 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis.

In 1990, celebrated director and screenwriter Gary Marshall launched the career of then Hollywood ingenue Hollywood Julia Roberts into orbit with the release of Pretty Woman, the second highest grossing film of that year. She played Vivian Ward, a Hollywood prostitute who gets hired by filthy rich businessman Edward Lewis, played by Hollywood heartthrob Richard Gere, to be his arm candy for a week of schmoozing other rich people to close a multimillion dollar business deal. At the time, popular sentiment regarded the film as a twist on the classic fairy tale story, with the common girl rescuing the dashing and rich hunk from his soul-crushing life. I remember watching the movie back then and being rather unimpressed. It was more cute than clever. I have never really understood the appeal of Richard Gere, but I did enjoy Julia Roberts' performance. The plot, however, just didn't click with me. Lewis was ruthless in the boardroom, buying up big companies and breaking them up to sell off for huge profits at the expense of the employees who would typically end up unemployed. That kind of person would likely not treat a prostitute like a princess, and certainly wouldn;'t give up a career that earns him millions of dollars for "love." I just couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to buy it.

Nearly thirty years later, the curtain rose on Pretty Woman: the Musical at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago. A year later, the show made its Broadway debut at the Nederlander Theatre. Now on its first U.S. Tour, Pretty Woman: The Musical opened the 2021-2022 US Bank Broadway Series at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis. It has been twenty long months since the Fox had been open to the area's live theatre fans, and with COVID safety protocols in effect, the doors opened to admit about 2,700 guests to the 4,500 seat venue--according to one of the friendly ushers, though I would have guessed a higher number were in attendance--for the first performance of a roughly two week run (November 16 - 28, 2021). 

Pretty Woman: the Musical is based on the book by Garry Marshall and frequent screenwriting collaborator J. F. Lawton, who also co-wrote the film. Music and lyrics are by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams and his longtime songwriting partner Jim Vallance. The production is directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. The cast features Olivia Valli as Vivian Ward, Adam Pascal as Edward Lewis, Jessica Crouch as Vuvan's friend Kit De Luca, Matthew Stocke as Edward's unscrupulous lawyer Phiilip Stuckey, and Kyle Taylor Parker in the dual roles of Barnard Thompson, manager of the posh Beverly Wilshire Hotel, and "Happy Man" who serves as the show's narrator/deus ex machina. The sets, designed by David Rockwell, consisted of somewhat abstract designs that call to mind the seedy side of 1980s Los Angeles, mixed with minimalist though lovely backdrops for the lobby and penthouse of the Beverly Wilshire. Gregg Barnes' costume designs nailed the aesthetic, especially his recreation of Roberts' wardrobe, which from my vantage point looked like they were plucked right out of the film.

The show itself, unfortunately, is perhaps too faithful to the source material. There is a fair amount of dialogue that if not lifted word for word from Marshall and Lawton's screenplay are at least close enough to sound like they were. if someone other than the same creators who wrote the original material did that they'd be roundly criticized in the theatrical world for it and likely labelled as hacks.. Obviously the tone and plot of the show doesn't stray very far from the film. In the much more sensitive 2020s, that's probably not for the best. The film hasn't aged as well as, say, Ghostbusters, which could be one heck of a musical if done right.

The cast generally does well in their roles but can't elevate the material above being just okay. Valli has clearly studied the film, recreating Roberts' mannerisms quite well. I thought her singing sounded better on the softer notes and lower register but found her big highs to be more loud than on pitch; my date thought just the opposite of her vocal performance but agreed that her acting was fine. We both agreed that Pascal, who originated the role of Roger in Rent, was strong all-around. I was a bit surprised that a Broadway star of his stature would join a touring production, but pandemic cabin fever is real. His Edward came off as a little more believable to me than Gere's performance did, though I can't really explain why. His tenor voice was one of the real highlights of the show. Crouch, as Kit, had a tremendous singing voice as well--too bad that her role is such an Italian-American cliche. If anything, the script made L.A. prostitutes in the decade of decadence seem strangely wholesome, avoiding simulated drug use or even make more than a couple of references to it. Stocke's version of Stuckley, played by Seinfeld star Jason Alexander in the film, felt far more menacing here. When he confronts Vivian in the climax, I felt some palpable dread that the character wanted to do far worse than his dialogue suggested. Considering the generally light tone of the rest of the show I appreciated the more sinister undertones in his performance. If someone just cost me an eight-figure corporate deal, my presence would likely feel a little dangerous too. I don't usually care for the deus ex machina--the often magical "fairy god-person" character who provides exposition that the audience probably doesn't need, or who abruptly unties the Gordian Knot that the writers wrote themselves into. Taylor Parker's Happy Man isn't nearly that extreme,just unnecessary. Given what little Kit has to do with anything, that part could have been expanded to be the narrator as well. That's no knock against Taylor Parker, who both danced and sang well and admirably recreated the role of Mr. Thompson, originally performed by Héctor Elizondo. 

Perhaps what disappointed me the most was the music. I'm a big fan of Bryan Adams, especially his work from the 80s and early 90s. From "Cuts Like A Knife" to "All for Love" with Rod Stewart and Sting, Adams' music long held a coveted spot among my favorite cassette tapes and CDs alongside the likes of Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Tom Petty. The songs Adams and Valance wrote for this musical are completely unmemorable. More than a few of the numbers sounded incomplete to me, just sort of ending unexpectedly when I was expecting more. As I study the Playbill beside me right now, there was one song that I felt was the best of the bunch, but for the life of me I can't tell you which one it is now. The music sounds like a freshman drama project in its simplicity and the lyrics are so simplistic that you could practically guess the next word despite not having heard the song before. Songs that explain what's going on as the actors perform the scene are utterly useless, and that pet peeve of mine was prevalent here.  As I mentioned before regarding the book recycling so much of the dialogue from the film, Adams borrowed rifts from his own catalog on some of the songs, most notably "You and I," Edward's rousing power ballad sung over virtually unaltered riffs from Adams' own big power ballad, "Heaven." As soon as I recognized the melody, I had completely lost what Adam Pascal was singing as my brain scrambled to put "Heaven's' lyrics back to their proper place. And yes, I had to listen to four songs on Youtube before I found it to get the title right. Considering the time period the musical covers, Bryan Adams' 80s hits would probably have worked even better. At least the production secured the rights to use the late, great Roy Orbison classic "Pretty Woman" in the curtain call.

While it was great to be in the Fox Theatre again after nearly two years of cancelled theatrical productions and concerts, Pretty Woman: the Musical simply wasn't my cup of tea, nor was the movie it's based on. I expect that fans of the film will get much more enjoyment out of it. Even if you're not a fan of the movie, seeing Adam Pascal perform in person is a treat that shouldn't be missed, especially if you're a Rent fan! Just try not to lose focus when familiar guitar licks by Bryan Adams pop up and you'll be fine. 

For more information regarding the U.S, Tour of Pretty Woman: the Musical, please visit

To find out more about current and upcoming Broadway shows concerts and seasonal productions at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, please visit 

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the Fox's COVID-19 safety protocols. I strongly urge guests to utilize their new pre-show check-in system. It's very easy to do and once their system has validated your information all you have to do is have the confirmation screen pulled up on your cell phone when you get there. Once we got waved around a throng of people who seemed to not have expected to have to produce either a valid vaccination card or a negative test to enter the Fox, we got right in. The Fox staff did a fantastic job getting everyone who completed the online check in process through the security checkpoint in a swift and efficient manner. 

Do yourself a favor and plan accordingly, unless you happen to be the two older women sitting across the aisle from me in Section OR02, Row L, who seemed to believe that they could talk in their normal tones throughout the show and leave the volume up on their phones so that all of us seated around them could enjoy the noise of their message alerts along with their incessant laughter. I know they were gabbing loudly during the "Please silence your electronic devices," announcement that is given before every show, so I presume they didn't hear the message. You'd think that people would be turning off their phones out of habit by now--all of the cat pictures and political misinformation will still be waiting for you when the show is over--but then again we've known unequivocally that the Earth is round for centuries and there are still people who refuse to believe it. These ladies were clearly old enough to know how to conduct themselves at a theatrical performance and seemed to revel in their rudeness, which made their conduct even more deplorable. I would encourage those two "Chatty Cathys" to stay home from now on. There is no shortage of patrons, young and old alike, who would cherish those seats and respect the actors and their fellow audience members. I would have found an usher to politely quiet them down, but why should I have to sacrifice any part of the show for you? My patience for rude and disrespectful people is in extremely short supply these days. If you can't control yourselves and ruin the experience for the people around you, don't bother coming at all.

2.5 / 5.0