By Karen Isaacs
For a brief while, it seemed like a sure fire formula for Broadway musical success. Take a popular movie, perhaps one that appealed to women, add music and voila! Sold out houses.
The formula has worked in the past. Think of Hairspray and The Producers. But more often than not it hasn’t worked; recently such well-loved films as Rocky and Groundhog Day couldn’t make it. Even Bronx Tale wasn’t a smash. The verdict is still out on Mean Girls.
The producers of Pretty Woman probably thought they had a sure fire hit. After all, the 1990 movie made Julia Roberts a major star and Richard Gere more of a star. It combines familiar elements: the hooker with a heart of gold, a Cinderella story, and the redemption of a man consumed by greed (think Scrooge).
But they forgot that there is a lot more to creating a hit musical: outstanding music and lyrics, a book that includes major elements of the movie but also does something more. The creative team must walk a fine line between giving audiences who loved the film what they expect and creating something unique and different.
It’s those things that are missing in the new musical which opened at the Nederlander Theatre recently.
The producers tried hard. Andy Karl looks a great deal like Richard Gere. Samantha Banks is Julia Roberts down to the smile and the hair. Why must she be a brunette like Roberts? But though Karl is very talented and Banks tries hard, they are weak versions of the original.
So the result is a pale imitation of the film. If you loved, loved, loved the film you will enjoy the musical. If you found the movie entertaining once, or if your views have evolved to a more realistic view of streetwalkers and their lives, you will find much of this show problematic.
The role of Vivian’s friend, Kit – the older hooker who got her in the business and advises her seems to have been beefed up. The role, played by Orfeh has most of the rousing songs in the show. Eric Anderson plays a narrator like character – at first call Happy Man, a sort of street person a la Hair style and later some other minor characters.
But when a supporting character seems the most interesting, as Anderson is, it reflects the problems in the show.
Jason Danieley is under used as the “heavy” in the show, playing Edward’s lawyer who is not happy with his change of heart and business practices. Danieley is a fine musical performer who has no songs except one ensemble number. He does a good job with the villain’s role, but it is a major waste of talent.
The production elements, set, costumes, lighting, sound design are professional but not exciting. At least one time the women in the ensemble, portraying sophisticated society types at a polo match look more like hookers than the streetwalkers do.
Director Jerry Mitchell, who also choreographed doesn’t do anything exciting.
The basic problem with this show falls on book writers Garry Marshall (who directed the film) and J. F. Lawson (who wrote the film) for giving us a weak version of the film, rather than exploring the story more. The music and lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance are not memorable either.
So it all comes down to how much did you love the film Petty Woman? That will determine how you feel about the musical.
Pretty Woman is at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.
By Karen Isaacs
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the Alan Jay Lerner/Burton Lane musical, is getting a delightful production at the Irish Rep under the skilled hand of director (and adaptor) Charlotte Moore.
This show has had a checkered past. It opened in 1965 on Broadway, Lerner’s first show without longtime collaborator Fritz Loewe. It ran under a year, garnering only three Tony award nominations and winning none. A 1970 movie version had significant plot changes from the original and starred Barbra Streisand. Since then – even more changes in the plot including the 2011 short-lived Broadway revision that changed the sex of one leading character and the time periods!
Along the way, not only songs, but scenes and supporting characters have come and gone.
This production keeps most of the basic elements of the original plot, removing two ancillary characters, some ensemble numbers that were required in the 1950s and ’60 in musicals, and a few songs.
The result is a clearer show that lets the fine performances of Melissa Errico and Stephen Bogardus, plus the singing of John Cudia shine through. For this show, the Irish Rep has a small musical ensemble including a harp off to the side.
The plot – which even Lerner said couldn’t be considered realistic in anyway – has some connection to Brigadoon: the attraction of the idealized past to the imperfect present.
Set in the 1960s, Daisy Gamble is having difficulty getting a job at a high end NYC law firm because she can’t stop smoking. So at the urging of some friends she goes to a session conducted by Dr. Mark Bruckner who specializes in hypnosis to overcome various problems. When she quickly and accidently goes into a trance (Bruckner was hypnotizing someone else), he becomes intrigued. Over the course of some days/weeks, under hypnosis she reveals a previous life as Melinda Welles, a wealthy heiress in 18th century London who defines convention by marrying a portrait painter for love and later dies tragically. (Theater lovers may catch the references to other plays in the names of characters and things.)
Bruckner finds himself attracted to Melinda (more so than Daisy) and doesn’t tell Daisy about her previous life. Is reincarnation possible? His colleagues at the Institute warn him to stop his investigation; none believe it is real. Of course, the story hits the press, Daisy discovers the truth about her previous life and Mark’s attraction to Melinda and not her, and Mark realizes that Melinda is just part of Daisy whom he really does love.
The scenes switch between NYC in the ‘60s and England during Melinda’s lifetime. The ensemble (eight people) play multiple roles as Daisy’s friends, Mark’s colleagues and secretary as well as Melinda’s father, mother, potential suitors and others in that period.
This adaptation removes some of the original songs, but keeps those that are most memorable – “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here,” “He Wasn’t You,” “Melinda,” “What Did I Have that I Don’t Have,” and “Come Back to Me,” plus the title song.
The highlights of this production are the three leads, the ensemble and many elements of the production. The set is defined mainly by projections by James Morgan who establishes location through the use of post-impressionistic drawings somewhat reminiscent of Rouault’s work. The sound design by M. Florian Staab is also excellent.
Less successful is the costume design by Whitney Locher. The 1960s dresses worn by Daisy seem neither attractive nor representative of the period – I lived through it. Though Daisy is a “quirky” character, her ‘60s costumes seem on the conservative side. In addition, though the idea of having her don a 18th century gown like a dressing gown is clever, it doesn’t always work well.
Stephen Bogardus and Melissa Errico are terrific as Mark and Daisy/Melinda. It’s been too long since I’ve seen Bogardus in musical and I was once again impressed with his voice and his overall performance. His Mark shows us the uncertainty, the growing awareness, the stubbornness and much more. Errico once again impresses with her voice and the dual dimensions of the character. Both deserve to be back on Broadway in major shows.
Cudia as Melinda’s husband has a gorgeous voice for the “She Wasn’t You” but he seems overly stiff.
The result is a very nice production of a show that will never be considered a top ranked musical.
The pluses – fine performances, some very tuneful songs, and a nice production – makes this show well worth seeing.
It has been extended to Sept. 6.
For tickets visit Irish Rep or call 212-727-2737.