[Review] Pretty Woman: The Musical’s open night at the New Theatre in Oxford

By Jessica Durston - 7 December 2023

Arts and CultureOpinion and Features

Swindon Link columnist Jessica Durston attended the opening night of Pretty Woman: The Musical at Oxford's New Theatre.

Spoiler alert - I really enjoyed this movie-to-musical adaptation. I mean there cannot be many people who can say they really dislike Pretty Woman, right?

It was fabulous to be amongst the other hundreds of audience members for the opening night of Pretty Woman: The Musical. Women, men, groups of girlfriends and boyfriends, were all gathered in their masses to enjoy the stage production of this firm favourite. Balloons and streamers littered the Piano Bar and there was even a Pretty Woman photo frame that could be taken advantage of for the perfect ‘opening night selfie.’

For those of you that have not yet found the time to see the 1990 film, directed by Garry Marshall, I shall pen a quick plot summary:

The story follows Vivian Ward, a prostitute working the streets of Hollywood and living hand to mouth in a cheap and run-down apartment with her best friend Kit. An extremely wealthy businessman, Edward Lewis, crosses her path one evening and ends up hiring her for a week to accompany him to various functions. She gets a taste of the high life, and he gets a refreshing new perspective on the world. Their relationship develops and has its ups and downs during their time together. It soon becomes unclear as to whether the pair of them will be able to go their separate ways and leave each other (and the prospect of new life) behind. 

There were lots of nods to the movie (and some key scenes reenacted) within the musical’s book from Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton. I noticed a lot of lines were drawn directly from the original feature’s script.

Amber Davies took on the protagonal role of Vivian Ward. She was charismatic, funny, and did the complicated nature of the beloved character justice. Opposite her, playing billionaire Edward Lewis, was Oliver Savile. He captured the two sides to Edward well - the straight-laced no-nonsense businessman, and the caring and more gentle man who ends up striving to become a better person. 

The pair were believable together in their roles, honoured their iconic screen counterparts, and had good chemistry with one another. Their duet numbers were special too, and their voices complimented each other. 

Annell Odartey was also amongst the main cast, taking on the role of Vivian’s spunky best friend, Kit De Luca. Her vocals added more of a rock n roll flavour, and alongside Davies with her sweet and high voice, the pair performed some great numbers together. 

However, personally I felt Curtis Patrick stole the show as the Happy Man/Mr Thompson…and the rest of the characters he multi-roled as. He showcased himself as a real chameleon, adapting to each different role, as he changed his costume and demeanour. He really showed versatility as a performer in this musical. 

Alongside Noah Harrison as Giulio the bellboy, Curtis performed fantastic showdance and tango choreography that I’m sure the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel would have no qualms giving four ‘10s’ to. Stand out numbers included ‘On A Night Like Tonight’ and ‘Don’t Forget To Dance.’ The backing vocals in ‘On A Night Like Tonight’ were performed in barbershop quartet style by a collection of the male cast members, and sounded sublime.

Additionally, as well as brilliant dancing capabilities, Noah Harrison also displayed non-verbal slapstick comedy talents, evocative of Stan Laurel, during his scenes. 

The big ensemble swing cast as a unit was so impressive. The extensive group of dancers and singers really make the show feel extra special. The large number of players ensure that the busy streets of Hollywood Boulevard looked bustling, and full of life. Additionally, the female swing members are utilised for the ‘Rodeo Drive’ number, and performed a fabulous catwalk in their expensive-looking garments (designed by costume team Gregg Barnes and Tom Rogers) whilst Annell Odartey gave a powerful vocal performance while they strutted around the stage. 

Furthermore, David Rockwell outdid himself with the inspired set design. There were multiple big set pieces used to create the seedy streets of Hollywood Boulevard, and contrastingly, the opulent interior of the Beverly Wilshire hotel, and the store interiors down Rodeo Drive. 

Rockwell’s set design really helped to create a sense of environment, and distinguish the different settings between scene changes. 

Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance were the musical pairing responsible for the show’s music and lyrics. Bryan Adams’ power ballad imprint and rock and roll stylings were recognisable within the original soundtrack. The songs felt very classic - like a product of the 1980s - which was very on-brand for the production. 

Moreover the 80s aesthetic was carried through the show with the bright neon signs and the brightly coloured costumes within the Hollywood Boulevard scenes. Also, the grandiose dresses and power suits worn by the cast during the scenes set in Rodeo Drive could easily have been seen on an episode of Dynasty. A good visual dichotomy was created to represent the differences between these two worlds - and the wealth and lack thereof.

In addition, the change in Vivian could be seen throughout the musical. This was achieved not only through her costume, but her solo numbers became more headstrong and powerful, and I felt Amber Davies really came into her own during the second half of the production. ‘I Can’t Go Back’ was a really impressive number for her, showing her character’s change of lifestyle and ambition.

Lastly, one of my favourite scenes in the movie takes place at the opera, when the performance moves Vivian to tears. The ‘Night At The Opera’ scene in the musical was equally wonderful. The gowns worn by the cast members during the dance break were sparkly and decadent, the tower prop piece replicating the theatre box seats was clever, and the operatic belting from Lila Falce-Bass (as the female opera lead) in particular, was incredible. 

I also liked how Lila almost reflected Vivian in her red dress, seen to be falling in love with her male co-star. Everything just worked.

If my review hasn’t yet been clear enough, this is a screen-to-stage adaptation really worth seeing, whether you’re a fan of the 90s film or not. The big, and professional cast really make this production feel high-end and magical.  It’s an irresistible, feel-good, classic rom-com that I feel all can enjoy. 

Pretty Woman:The Musical is running at the New Theatre until Saturday 9 December, and then will continue its tour around the UK. I would definitely recommend you grab yourself a ticket while you still can!

More information about Pretty Woman: The Musical can be found on it’s website at https://uk.prettywomanthemusical.com/ 

More information about the New Theatre and its upcoming shows can be found at https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-theatre-oxford/

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