Review: The musical “Pretty Woman” is an exact copy of the film but with music

How much you’ll like “Pretty Woman: The Musical” very much depends on how much you loved its source material, the 1990 film that transformed Julia Roberts from Hollywood newcomer to global superstar.

Virtually every character, costume, wig, signature line and scene from the film has been faithfully reproduced in the 2.5-hour touring production that runs through Sunday at the San Diego Civic Theater.

The big and sometimes explosive stage adaptation has a fun, flashy pep thanks to director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell. But the original score by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance is only modestly memorable, and the sexual warmth that earned the film an R rating has been toned down slightly to PG-13.

Roberts’ charm, vulnerability and beauty made the Cinderella story of a New York billionaire falling instantly in love with a Hollywood prostitute as plausible in film. It’s harder to sell on stage. The central character Vivian Ward, the prostitute with a heart of gold from small-town Georgia, appears in the first act of the musical much cheekier, louder and tougher than the on-screen Vivian. Luckily, Vivian’s rough edges are greatly reduced in the second act.

The musical’s 16-song score — ranging from ballads to rock solos to a tango — is full of belted high notes, and thankfully the tour’s two main cast members have the talent to pull them off. Vivacious Olivia Valli as Vivian has a huge, well-tuned pop voice, and Adam Pascal, as billionaire Edward, still has the sharp, cutting rock tenor voice that made him famous 26 years ago on “Rent.”

Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli star in the nationwide touring production of “Pretty Woman: The Musical.”

(Matthew Murphy)

Kyle Taylor Parker is endearingly funny as the Happy Man, a character unique to the musical who unexpectedly pops up in many roles, from card peddler to stars to hotel manager to chef. from the orchestra pit of the Civic Theatre. And Jessica Crouch brings a comedic, streetwise sensibility and a growling rock-blues voice to Vivian’s housemate and fellow hooker, Kit.

As in the film, Edward hires Vivian to be his lover and social companion during his week-long business trip to Beverly Hills. During this time, she influences him to relax emotionally and give up his career as a corporate raider. This transition takes time in the film but is telegraphed at the start of the musical in Edward’s first act song “Freedom”, which is one of the show’s best numbers.

Mitchell’s choreography is empowering and athletic and the energetic 21-member cast makes those steps easy.

One of the show’s best song-and-dance scenes — led by Parker and Trent Soyster as the baby-faced hotel bellboy — is “One Night Like Tonight,” where hotel staff learn to Vivian to tango. But one music scene that disappoints is Vivian’s Rodeo Drive shopping blitz. In the film, there are a series of quick shots of Roberts trying on several outfits to Roy Orbison’s 1964 song “Oh, Pretty Woman”. That kind of quick-change effect isn’t possible on stage, but Orbison’s song does make an appearance on the show.

On Wednesday night, a near-capacity audience primed by repeat viewings of the film clapped every signature line (“Big error. Big. Huge.”) and sang the title track. The show is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, but it doesn’t stick in the memory like the better and more original musicals “Hadestown” and “Come From Away,” which visited the Civic earlier this summer.

‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’

When: 8 p.m. Friday July 29. 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday July 30. 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday July 31

Where: San Diego Civic Theater, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego

Tickets: $40.50 and more

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