Pretty Woman, the classic Garry Marshall film that cemented Julia Roberts as the queen of romantic comedies in the ’90s, has made its way to the Broadway stage, with the added bonus of music by hit-maker Bryan Adams and songwriting partner Jim Vallance. The new musical stars Andy Karl, of Rocky and Groundhog Day, and Samantha Barks in her Broadway debut.
In the story that can be described as a mash-up between Pygmalion, Cinderella and Wall Street, wealthy businessman Edward hires Hollywood Boulevard prostitute Vivian for a full week. The transaction develops into something more, with some coaxing by hotel owner Mr. Thompson, played by Eric Anderson, who describes the character as a sort of magical fairy godfather.
Héctor Elizondo famously played Mr. Thompson in the film. “His portrayal was the blueprint and I added my own flesh to it,” Anderson said.
Anderson also pops up as several other characters throughout the show, including a homeless man on the Boulevard who spreads hopes and dreams to the downtrodden, and he loves having the opportunity to show off what he can do as a character actor. A mid-act two number with powerhouse Orfeh resounds as one of the catchiest tunes from the show.
“It’s a happy number and fun to look at the audience and see them bopping along with us,” he said. “It’s like a three-minute party.”
Anderson, who previously played Cal in Waitress and Mr. O’Malley in The Greatest Showman, knew Garry Marshall well while he was coming up as an actor in California and part of the Troubador Theatre Company. Marshall had wanted to bring Pretty Woman to Broadway for years and wrote the book with J.F. Lawton before he passed away in 2016.
“It’s kind of serendipitous that I became involved with the show after his passing,” Anderson said. “Knowing Garry, he’d be so proud of it and thrilled with how it has blossomed into what it is. It’s bittersweet, but we pay him good homage.”
In addition to Marshall’s family, Julia Roberts attended a special tribute performance and gave her blessing, which Anderson calls “the greatest compliment that we could get, not having Garry with us.”
Anderson has been with the show for most of its journey to Broadway and had a blast collaborating with the creative team and molding his character to his strengths.
“A lot of the choreography that I do was created by myself and [director and choreographer] Jerry Mitchell,” he said. “Then we were able to interact with Lawton, our writer, and Bryan [Adams] and Jim [Vallance] in helping to shape the songs and dialogue to our strengths as well.”
Adams rose to fame in the ’80s with hit singles “Run to You,” “Heaven” and “Summer of ’69.” His style of music with longtime cowriter Vallance is the perfect fit for a musical set in 1990. Andy Karl, who earned a Tony nomination and Laurence Olivier award, taps into the sound of the Canadian pop-rock icon during his numbers, and also channels Richard Gere in his performance.
Pretty Woman: The Musical elevates the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ trope into a message of empowerment, never clearer than during Samantha Barks’ fierce rock anthem “I Can’t Go Back.” Barks is known for playing Éponine in the film adaptation of Les Misérables and handles the part of Vivian with charisma and an effervescence required for the role.
The ensemble cast includes Tommy Bracco as Giulio, the scene-stealing bellhop who gets to show off a few of his Newsies moves, and Allison Blackwell, who shakes the building with her passionate rendition of a La traviata solo. And it can’t be overstated how welcome Orfeh is every time she graces the stage as Vivian’s wisecracking roommate Kit and effortlessly dominates the room with her uniquely powerful voice. The Tony-nominated actress, who happens to be married to Andy Karl, needs to headline her own show, stat.
Though sanitized to satisfy a PG-13 crowd, the essence of the iconic love fable remains.
“It lifts people up and makes them forget about their cares for a couple of hours,” Anderson said. “That’s what we need more than anything right now—some positive escapism.”
See Pretty Woman: The Musical at The Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st St., NYC. For tickets, visit prettywomanthemusical.com or call Ticketmaster at 877-250-2929.