Pretty Woman’s London debut gets mixed reviews

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Image copyright Helen Maybanks
Image caption Danny Mac as Edward and Aimie Atkinson as Vivian in Pretty Woman: The Musical

Pretty Woman: The Musical has received mixed reviews from critics after its debut in the West End.

The show, which has already enjoyed a successful Broadway run, opened at London’s Piccadilly Theatre on Monday.

Aimie Atkinson and Danny Mac take on the roles played by Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in the 1990 film.

“From the get-go, this is a heart-warming retelling of the film – sensual, sexy and full of sass,” wrote Howell Davies in The Sun.

“It is truthful to the iconic flick and doesn’t try to modernise it with woke changes to the much-loved story, which audiences will be grateful for.”

‘Dodgy subject matter’

Pretty Woman tells the story of a wealthy businessman who hires a prostitute while on a business trip in Los Angeles.

The pair – Edward and Vivian – spend a full week together and end up falling in love as they attempt to bridge the gap between their very different worlds.

Writing in The Evening Standard, Nick Curtis said Atkinson “brings both power and depth to [Vivian’s] big numbers”, adding: “This unexpectedly delightful show could do for her what the film did for Roberts.”

He described the musical as “a triumph of exuberant zest over dodgy subject matter. It matches the charm of the film but has a subversive energy all its own”.

But Natasha Tripney in The Stage drew attention to the show’s male-heavy creative team, arguing it somewhat dampened any feminist message the musical attempted to convey.

“Produced in 2020, created predominantly by men but marketed at women, this is nostalgia-by-numbers padded out with ballads, as cynical as it is icky,” she wrote.

The musical has a male director (Jerry Mitchell) as well as male script writers (Garry Marshall and JF Lawton), and composers (Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance).

Image copyright Helen Maybanks
Image caption The show’s sets were criticised by some reviewers

“The musical format does at least grant her some interior life and a bit of backstory – Vivian sings about her wish to get off the streets and sort her life out – whereas in the film her character was primarily there to be looked at: It’s right there in the title,” Tripney continued.

“It’s just that the songs are pedestrian at best and riddled with lyrical clichés, in some cases fading from the memory while still being performed.”

The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish said: “There are empowerment-sloganed T-shirts on sale but the evening hasn’t a progressive bone in its body.

“Yet it’s also pretty harmless, a sanitised occasion which is almost as chaste as a parish newsletter, the pedestrian numbers serving as anaphrodisiacs.”

‘Shallow and outdated’

“Can the story still win us over? Not exactly. This feels like a shallow and at times tasteless show but, within the rules of a rom-com, it works in its central, schmaltzy storyline of love despite the odds,” wrote Arifa Akbar in The Guardian.

“There is also some attempt, however bolted on, to update the story’s sexual politics… However saccharine the story’s ending, Vivian at least wins Edward on her own terms.”

Akbar also noted the lyrics to one song in the musical, in which Vivian sings: “It’s me who’s in control… I say who, I say when, I say how much.”

But Alexandra Pollard of The Independent felt the feminist tweaks didn’t go far enough, writing that the musical “offers up a shallow and outdated version of sex work, female agency and womanhood”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Richard Gere and Julia Roberts starred in the original Hollywood film in 1990

Sarah Crompton of WhatsOnStage awarded the show two stars, writing: “If Pretty Woman: The Musical had any conscience it would adapt itself to the actors performing it and to the era in which it has been launched.

“That it simply wants to be a facsimile of a once-popular movie, reveals the ugliness at its core.”

According to Clive Davis in The Times, the stage musical could not match the expensive look of the Hollywood movie.

“It takes some time to adjust to the lack of glitz,” he wrote. “If the movie was an in-your-face celebration of Gucci and Chanel, the musical’s set designs are more bargain basement than Beverly Hills.

“Everything looks rather cheap and impermanent… Harsh lighting adds to a cruise ship ambiance in the first half of the evening.”

“Fans can rest assured that the show follows the film faithfully,” noted The Daily Mail’s Patrick Marmion.

“And although it’s sunny without being dazzling, in the end it delivers what we all want most: A sing-along to Roy Orbison’s title song.

“So, even if queues for the ladies’ loos looked knee-knittingly long to me, I foresee great business with hen parties.”

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