Pretty Woman -The Musical

New Wimbledon Theatre

How jazz hands are you as a person? I only ask as Garry Marshall’s touring production of everyone’s favourite Hooker-Businessman romance will test even the most ardent musical theatre zealot.

It was 1990, the last gasp of the 80s, a decade so dusted with cocaine and capitalism that something had to give. The late great Garry Marshal directed a film for a budget of 14 million and made a whopping 463! It lodged itself in the hearts, minds, and lower regions of the sex-obsessed era to come. Tooted as one of the most successful romcoms and one of the highest-grossing films of its year worldwide. In short, it was huge.

But that was 1990, (and I will try and not instantly vomit when I type this) over 30 years ago. How does a rags-to-riches story, with trowelled on schmaltz translate not only to 2023 but also to the stage’s all-singing, all-dancing requirements? I think we can all guess, can’t we? But let’s press on, nevertheless.

Vivian Ward is our lady of the night, originally to be played by Love Island winner turned musical star Amber Davies. However, for press night, Sydnie Hocknell steps in. She has the energy, but struggles with the vocal demands, although who knows how much preparation time she has had. Vivian is down and out, led by her friend (a bombastically sung Natalie Paris) Kit De Luca into a life of sex work on LA’s notorious Hollywood Boulevard. She meets Edward a successful but selfish businessman as he navigates his Lotus Esprit (sports car for the uninitiated) in hopes of finding the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Oliver Savile is our Mr Darcy with a black Amex, and despite considerable challenges proves his vocal and technical suitability for the role. His characterisation is clear-cut American confidence and clean uncongested tones through the consumptive songs. Edward engages Vivian for the week and feelings (pecky things) predictably complicate their business transaction, as she struggles in his swanky-pants world. A narrator Ore Oduba tries to speed things along and tie the Boulevard and the Beverly. But with only a shopping trip, a gala, a polo match, an odd dance lesson and a second shopping trip it’s a tough task badly done.

As you can see the plot is about as light on the ground as snow in the City of Angels. This wasn’t an issue with such stars as Richard Gere and Julia Roberts breathing charm and vivacity into the film. But the musicalisation lacks even these positive elements. Flimsy at best and problematic at worst, there is no attempt to discuss in any complexity the stark realities of sex work and social inequality. The idea that money really does solve everything is as pervasive throughout as the corny and often repeated idea of following your dreams. As if this particularly American brand of naivety is something anyone believed past 1950.

Flashes of comedy are few and far between and the show even lacks sex appeal, which you would hope was a given considering the subject matter. Moments of respite come from Tom Rogers’s deliciously 80s costumes, and Paris and Savile’s clear star quality. Jerry Mitchell’s directing and chorography have the ensemble glitter and gyrate as we chop and change between downtown and uptown, straining like racehorses at a polo match within the confining script and music.

But no amount of talent or high kicking can distract from the repetitive (if appropriate) 80s soundtrack from the two and only Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. All the good lines are transcribed word for word from the film by Marshal and screenwriter J. F. Lawton and therefore gives the uncomfortable sensation of a heartless cash grab. Capitalising on the much-loved film, yet bringing nothing new to the story, and even worse undermining and illustrating the issues with the original. Even I, a hardened jazz-hands enthusiast found my eyes rolling so far back in my head I could see the glowing exit sign at the back of the theatre flickering, winking, mocking me, daring me to follow it.