The National Tour of “Pretty Woman: The Musical” is currently making a stop at The Hippodrome. It opens, framed in neon, behind the Hollywood sign. The set and lighting, designed by David Rockwell and Kenneth Posner/Philip S. Rosenberg respectively, work seamlessly together, casting intricate and beautifully built environments in powerful, evocative colors—from happy-go-lucky to soulful to sad-to-be-going. It’s an incredible space for the cast to bring to life this beloved classic based on Garry Marshall’s 1990 film.
…the show is filled with lustrous moments of humor and feeling.
The Happy Man, our charismatic narrator, was played by understudy Michael Dalke when I saw the production (The character is normally played by Kyle Taylor Parker). Dalke does a good job in the part, weaving together a number of roles that suit the various environments through which the play takes us. Our first instantiation, of a guy on the street in the Hollywood that’s got a vague street-side poet vibe, is a little vague in execution. Dalke shines as the hotel concierge and the manager at a luxury boutique who are delightful and witty. They engage playfully with the what’s going on, giving a little wink-wink nudge-nudge to the audience all the while.
David Morse, played by Alex Gibbs, is the heir of a shipping company trying to keep his father’s legacy and the livelihoods of his employees afloat. It would be easy to play this character as solely combative, but Gibbs brings nuance to the role and has great chemistry with the main character, Vivian.
Trent Soyster as Giulio, a bellhop, is a gift and a treasure. His dancing, lightness, and enthusiasm on stage are fantastic. The character says almost nothing, yet Soyster manages to express a great deal with his face and body. He seems so excited to be there that it is impossible not to smile whenever he is on stage. Giulio is quirky like an elf and a kid in a candy store. His dances sequences with a mop and the concierge are wondrous and he really steals the show.
Matthew Stocke plays Philip Stuckey, jerk-and-lawyer extraordinaire, and does an excellent job. He’s believable and detestable without making you want to stop watching him. He carries the character without feeling like he’s meant to forward the plot or provide an obstacle.
Jessica Crouch’s Kit De Luca is the hard-edged best friend whose been working the street for years. Crouch embodies the character’s sharpness well, though at the start she’s a little distant. In the second half of the play, when Kit gets a sense of direction in life and we see more of her relationship with Vivian, Jessica’s performance becomes much easier to connect with emotionally. We feel ourselves rooting for her.
Edward Lewis, the rich-and-eligible bachelor, is played by Adam Pascal (Broadway’s “Rent,” “Aida”). Pascal’s performance can be split between the acting and the singing. His acting is a little stiff and not as emotionally engaged for the first half of the show. Pascal is hindered a bit by the writing of the musical itself, as Edward is a rather reserved character even though the way he carried himself and interacted with Vivian didn’t necessarily speak to holding back. After he and Vivian have their first fight, Edward opens opens up and Pascal carries that open heart well. Throughout the entire play, his voice deftly shows the emotional weight of every situation, powerfully conveying what Edward feels for Vivian, even when he can’t say it to her. He deserved, and received, thunderous applause.
Olivia Valli (daughter of legendary singer Frankie Valli) takes on the mantle that Julia Roberts has passed down. She is absolutely extraordinary in the role of the pretty woman herself, Vivian Ward. She brings so many layers to the timeless heroine—a savviness fitting for her occupation; a surprising childlike nature; and a sense of freedom and breathlessness. Valli’s Vivian is guarded as well, which is moving and compelling. Her singing is warm and big. She also looks like she’s having so much fun that it is a joy to watch her.
There is a sizable ensemble with a few key moments of exceptional dancing and singing worth highlighting. First in “On a Night Like Tonight,” a group of bellhops and hotel staff assist, barbershop quintet style, in instructing Vivian in the finer points of elite culture; and the following club scene in “Don’t Forget to Dance” (when Vivian Ward gets everyone to dance), is a lot of fun. The ensemble powerfully engages in “Never Give Up On Me,” helping Kit to find the hope necessary to change her life for the better; and in “You’re Beautiful,” when everyone gathers together to give Vivian a big ego boost in the form of the world’s biggest shopping spree. As a collective piece of art—dance, song, dress, and mood— the scene where Vivian and Edward attend the opera is without compare. The finale is one big party. A shout out goes to costume designer Gregg Barnes. The elegance and the grace of some of these outfits, in addition to the spot-on dressing for the 80s, is exquisite.
One member of the ensemble who stands out is Amma Osei who sings a piece from “La Traviata” during the opera scene. Osei is transcendent and it was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever seen in a musical.
Jerry Mitchell directed and choreographed and he populates the musical with many charming and smooth moments alike. At the opera, the Happy Man has a little interlude with the audience where he plays the conductor and it is a hoot. From the comedy of Vivian’s nose blowing to the suaveness of the first Happy Man transformation (grunge-lord to concierge), Mitchell has done well. Hats off to him, also, for all the dance numbers, both ensemble and smaller pairs.
Mitchell has done an extraordinary job bringing to life a beautiful sensuality beneath the story. Vivian is a prostitute, a fact that might be ignored or made dirty by an unkind hand. Instead, Mitchell’s direction conveys the tenderness, beauty, and play that can exist between two people. When Vivian and Edward start to kiss on the piano, the set falls away and we are left with the silhouette of two figures against a blue backdrop that felt otherworldly. It was breathtaking.
Some things took a little time to come together. Other than the previously mentioned songs, the music didn’t really blow me away. But the show is filled with lustrous moments of humor and feeling. The different storylines—of Vivian and Kit finding their place and who they are; Edward’s growth; and the critique of chop-shop capitalism—hit the mark.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
Advisory: Adult language and themes, some violence.
“Pretty Woman: The Musical” runs in-person through April 10, 2022 at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For more information and tickets, call (410) 837-7400 or click here. For information on COVID protocols, please visit here.