Review: Pretty Woman – the Musical, Piccadilly Theatre

Aiimie Atkinson is good but deserves far better than Pretty Woman: the Musical, the blatant cash grab at the Piccadilly Theatre

“Somebody pinch me, this can’t be true”

The publicity for Pretty Woman – the Musical invites, nay begs, you to invoke one of the movie’s iconic catchphrases so let’s have it. Mounting a show in 2020 in which the only roles for women are prostitutes or bitches? Big mistake. Huge. Charging £175 to sit on your front row? Big mistake. Huge. Encouraging the use of a grand piano for anything besides playing? Big mistake. Huge.  

The 1990 film directed by Garry Marshall from J F Lawton’s screenplay scored massive success for a rom-com but much like Grease, it is hard to view the story with a contemporary lens. Determined to view itself as a fairytale (of sorts), it takes the worlds of asset stripping and sex work and whisks them together without taking anything seriously. And Marshall and Lawton’s book for this musical adaptation does the same except with added songs by Bryan Adams (yes, that one) and Jim Vallance.

Jerry Mitchell’s production does have its charms, particularly a highly charismatic lead performance from Aimie Atkinson as Vivian, the prostitute with a heart of gold. And it manages that rare trick of turning the sniggers of an audience who intrinsically find two men dancing together a figure of fun into something akin to respectful awe. And where theatrical license can be brought to bear, as in Bob Harms’ delightful multi-roling, there’s real enjoyment to be had.  

But the book’s slavish adherence to the film robs any kind of dramatic impetus, in terms of action or character development (insofar as accidental prostitute user Edward has any, Danny Mac unable to show what isn’t there). The result is a bizarre kind of wish-fulfilment fan service – Act 1 ends with a would-be showstopper about the joys of spending other people’s money, whoop! and yes, you can quote half the lines from the film verbatim along with the cast (the introduction of Friday matinées seem expressly devoted to this purpose). 

But when crowd-pleasing is the order of the day (take a guess which non-Bryan Adams song is featured at the curtain call – hint, it isn’t ‘It Must Have Been Love’), it is clear where the priorities of the all-male creative team lie. Any sense of interrogating the sexual politics here is deemed unimportant, any indication that this might not be the story for today’s society knocked aside in this blatant cash grab. Big misjudgement. Huge.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Helen Maybanks
Pretty Woman – the Musical is booking at the Piccadilly Theatre until 2nd January 2021

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