Pretty Woman – Review – Hull New Theatre

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By Rachel Howard, February 2024

We all love a fairy tale don’t we… Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel… they might not be deemed particularly PC these days, but a rags-to-riches love story is one that continues to capture the imagination of many of us.

The magical fantasy of a traditional fairy tale set alongside the glamorous backdrop of 1980s Los Angeles could be one of the reasons behind the 1989 film Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, becoming a smash hit. I don’t imagine there are many people who haven’t seen, and subsequently loved, the film. It was one of my favourites while growing up… it has everything: glamour, fabulous fashion, a sense of the risqué, an opposites-attract love story, a great soundtrack and some memorable quotes that have definitely stood the test of time.

All of which must go some way to explaining the full house, packed-to-the-rafters auditorium at Hull New Theatre this week for the UK tour of Pretty Woman The Musical. But can the musical capture the same magic as the film? I take my place among the crowds to find out…

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“Wild yet vulnerable”

The night gets off to a slightly wobbly start when we’re informed that many of the main characters are being played by understudies. This is a rarity for opening night (which is also press night) and I’m immediately concerned that we might not get a top-notch experience. But I needn’t have worried. In fact, I soon struggle to comprehend how anyone could better the performances we witness from Ben Darcy (Edward Lewis), Sydnie Hocknell (Vivian Ward), Curtis Patrick (Happy Man/Mr Thompson) and Stuart Maciver (Philip Stuckey).

For the few that may be unfamiliar with our modern-day fairy tale, the story plays out as follows… Wealthy, debonair businessman Edward Lewis calls on the services of hooker Vivian Ward, but not the services you might imagine. He needs her help driving his lawyer’s Lotus to the Beverly Wilshire hotel (she can handle a stick shift, he can’t). The initial spark between the pair burns brightly and soon he is handing over $3,000 for her to spend the week with him, accompanying him to various business dinners and sporting events. What transpires is a Cinderella/My Fair Lady melting pot, as she learns how to hold her own in the upper echelons of LA society, while he, the cold, hard billionaire, slowly but surely starts to thaw and fall for the charms of the wild yet vulnerable Vivian.

Ben Darcy and Sydnie Hocknell are fabulous as Edward and Vivian. The acting is top class, the chemistry between the two is smouldering (quite the feat given they are not in their regular roles) and their singing voices are strong yet emotive – demonstrated particularly well in ‘Anywhere But Here’ (sung by Vivian) and ‘Freedom’ (sung by Edward).

We can’t talk about the cast without mentioning Natalie Paris who plays Kit De Luca – Vivian’s flatmate, fellow sex worker and best friend. Natalie portrays Kit impeccably, and her powerful vocals are something to behold.

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“Awkward sniggers”

In many ways, the musical sticks emphatically to the movie storyline. In fact, for die-hard fans like myself, I can second guess a few of the Iines before they are spoken! Many of the famous quotes are in there, word for word. The scene where Vivian is refused service in an upmarket clothing store on Rodeo Drive is particularly well received, especially when she returns to the store, laden with shopping bags and dressed to the nines, only to announce to the assistants “You people work on commission, right? Big mistake. Big! Huge! I have to go shopping now!”

But there is also a little artistic licence used, with some scenes introduced just for the musical. Many of these involve hotel bellboy Giulio (Noah Harrison), Happy Man and Mr Thompson (a dual role played by Curtis Patrick) and are comedy gold. I hadn’t expected to laugh so much, and there are definitely a few awkward sniggers reverberating around the crowd during a couple of slightly risqué moments between Edward and Vivian!

Other than the title track (written by Roy Orbison and Bill Dees), the show features all original music and lyrics, written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. It’s a shame some of the more well-known tracks from the movie soundtrack are missing. ‘King of Wishful Thinking’, by Go West, and ‘It Must Have Been Love’, by Roxette, would have been welcome additions to the musical numbers in my opinion. Special mention must, however, be given to the stars of the opera scene – Violetta (Lila Falce-Bass) and Alfredo (Josh Damer Jennings) – who knock everyone’s socks off with their beautiful and passionate classical performance.

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“Wonderful tribute”

The stage set is a triumph and a credit to the creative team. The scenes transition seamlessly from Edward’s penthouse apartment, which really feels like we are high up in the Hollywood Hills, looking down on to Los Angeles below. Rodeo Drive has oodles of glitz and glamour, and Vivian and Kit’s corner on Hollywood Boulevard is as seedy as you would expect.

Having arrived with high hopes, and as a true fan of the movie, I’m pleased to report this musical version is a wonderful tribute to the film and storyline brought to life by Roberts and Gere. The magic they brought to the big screen in 1989 adapts superbly to the stage in 2024.

A lot has changed in the world in 35 years, but the need for escapism, fun, laughter, and dare I say, the idea of a modern-day fairy tale, has never diminished. And as the iconic title track starts to play, and the audience rise to their feet, it’s clear to see the Pretty Woman feel-good factor continues to spread far and wide.

‘Pretty Woman’ is at Hull New Theatre until 10th February


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