A Flawed Fairytale Redeemed By A Winning Cast In ‘Pretty Woman’

Given its generally negative reception and outdated premise,  I was not particularly expecting to have much fondness for Pretty Woman: The Musical, which you’ll find at West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center for only the rest of this week. But, first off, I’ll admit; at least while under the influence of swoon-worthy vocals, romantic allusions to destiny, and overpriced champagne, it was surprisingly easy to feel myself taken in by the show’s fairytale charms. 

After all, the movie on which the show is based certainly became a huge hit and pop cultural mainstay for a reason, that reason being the compelling nature of the wish-fulfillment fantasy represented and the charming love story between the two protagonists. (And I also think such popularity also justifies skipping the plot summary and including a few spoilers….)

But while some elements of the film’s cheesy sentimentality seem a perfect fit when transposed to the naturally exaggerated musical theatre format, such as in production numbers like “Rodeo Drive” and “Don’t Forget to Dance,” there were quite a few other points where this made the show’s sanitization of the dark realities of prostitution and other problematic implications even more egregious. 

Though songs like “This Is My Life” and some fleeting dialogue at least hint at the true emotional impact and physical dangers of Vivian’s situation, glitzy sets, cheery production numbers, and hollow clichés about following one’s dream feel out of place when juxtaposed with the fact that the vast majority of women in her profession are unlikely to be spared by some improbable rescuer. 

Meanwhile, as other critics have commented on the original movie, Pretty Woman’s empty worship of money and status is more or less inherent to its premise and to many of its most memorable moments. After all, the primary thing responsible for Vivian’s transformation from looked-down-on hooker to respected society lady in the eyes of others seems to be the fact that a man with means effectively buys her that respect in the form of fancy clothes and his big-spender reputation.


Furthermore, though the script admittedly makes an effort to show that Edward falls for Vivian because of her wit and good heart rather than just her beauty, as one song called “You’re Beautiful” puts it rather directly, the fact that she is incredibly attractive is implied to be an essential part of the reason she “belongs” in high society instead of out turning tricks. 

Sure, the power of wealth and of beauty are plenty realistic; but the implications of Vivian being an “exception” who “deserves” rescue rather than that all women, prostitutes or not, deserve dignity and respect, are actually quite discouraging. As the character sings in “Anywhere But Here,” otherwise a fairly typical “I Want” song, she knows somehow that she “doesn’t belong” and that “the sidewalk doesn’t suit her soul” — but are we supposed to imagine that it suits anyone’s? 

Furthermore, while it could be argued that Vivian has a degree of agency in her own redemption since, after her pivotal week with Edward, she begins to make plans to better her life without him before his romantic turnaround, the fact that his money and attention are still the inciting incident for her aspirations rather lessens the impact. 

But though I’d love to see a story of a girl like Vivian managing to live her dream without the help of a Prince Charming, given that the story of the movie is the one this adaptation had to work with, it does do at least a decent job of recapturing its essential magic. 

Aside from the addition of a generally enjoyable if not particularly inspired score by Bryan Adams and Jim Valence,  the musical follows the trajectory of said movie almost exactly. And though especially the main characters’ many solo numbers feel a little obligatory and show-slowing, the fact that the cast had such talented members made this flaw hard to pay much mind to. 

In the role of Vivian, Jessie Davidson not only unleashes an impressive belt but plays her character to the hilt with the necessary mix of confidence, vulnerability, and lovable enthusiasm. Meanwhile, the show also has a major secret weapon in the form of Adam Pascal, who portrayed Edward. Though I’ll admit my potential bias on this point as a longtime fan of Rent, in which Pascal famously originated the role of Roger, I found him to be a surprisingly natural fit as this near-opposite character. 

To indulge in one more brief Rent reference, the actor has made the transition from the embodiment of a “pretty boy front man,” to a suave silver fox but has lost none of his appealing rock-star energy or vocal talent, which seemed to allow Edward’s songs to showcase the passion lurking behind his repressed facade. The show also has plenty of valuable supporting players, most notably including Trent Soyster as an agile bell-hop, Travis Ward-Osborne as an energetic assortment of supporting characters, and Jessica Crouch as Vivian’s spunky sidewalk buddy Kit. 

Finally, though I do not consider this a particularly rational reaction, it’s probably also worth noting that I found myself getting surprisingly emotional at more than one point during the play, for reasons that probably have a lot to do with the reasons we keep on retelling the best fairy tales: because we want so badly to believe them. 

Or I, at least, want desperately to believe them, sometimes so badly that it hurts. I want to believe that the inexplicable chemistry between two people is enough to transcend differences in backgrounds, class, and status, all obstacles within and without; and I want to believe that the power of love can change us for the better, and open new horizons in our hearts.

Thus, perhaps the biggest thing that this show has on its side is that the story it seems to be trying to tell, no matter how fumblingly, is one that embodies these worthwhile ideals, and thus an inherently moving one. So, while I can’t fully condone Pretty Woman’s unfortunate implications, I will commend it as a pretty fun and pretty effective piece of escapism, and say that its stars shine bright enough that it might be worth a visit before this March 12!

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