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PRETTY WOMAN brings a variety of talents together on stage for a very satisfying evening full of surprising moments.

THE BASICS:  PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL, national tour, at Shea’s Performing Arts Center (Shea’s Buffalo Theatre) opened November 30 and runs through December 5, Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00, Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30. (716-847-1410) (Sheas.org).  Suitable for ages 12+  All guests over the age of 12 must be fully vaccinated and masks are required.  Runtime 2-1/2 hours with one intermission (drinks, snacks, merch available)

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Based on the 1990 film of the same name (starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts) written by J.F. Lawton and directed by Garry Marshall, this musical written by the same Marshall and Lawton revisits free-spirited Hollywood sex-worker Vivian Ward who is hired by uptight wealthy businessman Edward Lewis to be his escort for several business and social events.  Part CINDERELLA, part PYGMALION/MY FAIR LADY, over the course of a week, Vivian and Edward’s relationship grows.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  Well, I was wrong.  I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this production, yet another movie turned into a musical, and was feeling a bit Grinchy or Scroogey and then … that all changed and I loved this show.  And I’ll tell you why.

L-R Jessica Crouch as Kit and Olivia Valli as Vivian | Photo credit: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Everything was first-rate and professional and fun.  Olivia Valli as “Vivian” has a great voice and an expressive face that draws you in.  Fun Fact:  Olivia is the granddaughter of Franki Valli, whose falsetto singing voice was the signature sound of The Four Seasons celebrated in the musical JERSEY BOYS which also played at Shea’s.  What’s more, in an off-Broadway production, Olivia actually played her grandmother!

Adam Pascal as “Edward” has a big Broadway voice and a dancer’s body and is quite believable in the role, which, let’s be honest, is a little far-fetched.

THREE SURPRISE DELIGHTS: Jessica Crouch as Vivan’s wing-woman, mentor, and fellow prostitute “Kit” has a great voice and attitude and yet never oversteps the role.  That’s not easy to do on stage, to have Crouch’s talent yet hold it back, just a little, and I think that everybody in the audience would like to have a friend as supportive as “Kit.”

Matthew Vincent Taylor was “Giulio” the bellhop (and other roles) at the Beverly Hills Wilshire Hotel and provided solid comedy.  As with most of the cast, he’s a very physical actor, and very adept at the use of props (using a wig as a dust mop and a wet mop as a dance partner, to name just two).

Kyle Taylor Parker as Happy Man | Photo credit: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

But the biggest surprise was the way Kyle Taylor Parker played “Happy Man” and a variety of other roles.  If you remember Michael James Scott as the “Genie” when ALADDIN came to Shea’s (review here) then you’ll have an idea of what Mr. Parker’s over-the-top singing and dancing are like, resulting in a number of applause moments.  Yes, he’s “Happy Man” who hands out brochures for tours of the stars but he’s so much more including a star turn as conductor.

Another delicious surprise was Amma Osei, who takes on the operatic role of “Violetta,” the courtesan, in the scene where Vivian falls in love with opera courtesy of Edward taking her to see Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA.  At most rom-coms, I’m a sap and tear up but that didn’t happen for most of this musical except for one exquisitely directed moment when Vivian, the prostitute, locks eyes with Violetta, the courtesan, and, to me, it was electric.  And also super-meta.

So who did direct?  We were in good hands with both direction and choreography by multiple Tony Award nominee Jerry Mitchell who, so far, has six “Best Choreography” nominations including THE FULL MONTY and HAIRSPRAY and two Tony wins for LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and KINKY BOOTS, where he was also nominated for “Best Direction of a Musical.”

For a musical that is set in “Hollywood – Once Upon a Time in the 1980s” bringing on board the 1980s rock’n’roll team of Bryan Adams and his songwriting partner Jim Vallance (“Straight from the Heart”, “Cuts Like a Knife,” and “This Time”) was truly inspired. That team also wrote for Kiss and Vallance also wrote for Aerosmith.  Unlike some musicals where the soundscape never varies, Adams and Vallance take us through playlist-worthy ballads and anthems and folk-rock and even a tango.  Why they even create a counterpoint number with a selection from Verdi’s opera.  Complimenti signori, molto bravo!

Unlike some musicals where the soundscape never varies, Adams and Vallance take us through playlist-worthy ballads and anthems and folk-rock and even a tango.

True confession.  When I first saw the publicity photos for PRETTY WOMAN I thought “that stage looks pretty bare bones” and it’s true, it is kind of 1980s with no Disney digital projection magic, no Hamiltonian revolving stage, just good old fashioned flown pieces and scenery wagons that are moved on and off by choreographed cast members but, with stunning lighting by Tony Award winning Kenneth Posner and Academy Award winning Philip S. Rosenberg it all works.

But as far as technical elements go, the Golden Teaser Comb Award goes to Hair Designer Josh Marquette for his impressive array of wigs that seemed to encompass the entire Julia Roberts collection.  Think “Mystic Pizza,” or “Steel Magnolias,” or the movie “Pretty Woman” and you’ve got it.

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:  The movie was rated R for adult themes, sexual references and imagery, prostitution, drug dealing, tobacco and alcohol use, occasional profanity, and an incident of attempted rape.  That’s all still in the musical but it’s been toned down so that what’s at Shea’s is billed as “suitable for ages 12+” and that seems about right.  It’s certainly far less sexually explicit than WAITRESS or RENT.  There’s a lot of suggestion, true, which if you get it, you’re old enough, and if you don’t, you won’t miss it.

Roy Orbison’s ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ was originally excluded from the musical but in June 2019, apparently due to audience demand, the show included that in an audience sing-along during the curtain call.

Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” was originally excluded from the musical but in June 2019, apparently due to audience demand, the show included that in an audience sing-along during the curtain call.  They also do a quick meta gag reference to the famous guitar riff at the start of Act II.

Some bigger issues which you’ll have to put on hold when you go include accepting the trope of the man saving the woman.  That just doesn’t play well in 2021.  True, the knight on the white horse is explicitly held up for comedy in one of the final scenes (with Edward literally riding a park bench that advertises “White Horse” brand Scotch), but, laugh at it or not, it’s still a major plot element.

Another issue has sex workers being given more agency than they might actually have.  Vivian’s refrain “I say where, I say when, and I say how” sounds good, but might not reflect reality.  If you want to know more about the situation, at least in Southern California, the American Civil Liberties website has information here.


Lead image: Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli as Edward and Vivian source Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade


WHAT’S NEXT AT Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 650 Main Street, Buffalo (716-847-1410) Sheas.org.:

CINDERELLA with The State Ballet Theatre of Ukraine, music by Sergei Prokofieve, one night only, Friday, December 10, at 7:30 pm, (Sheas.org)

THE LINDSEY STIRLING CHRISTMAS PROGRAM, one night only, December 11, at 8:00 pm. (Sheas.org)

HAMILTON, Dec 14, 2021-Jan 2, 2022 (a three week run!) Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00, Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30 (performances will be held on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day but NO PERFORMANCE CHRISTMAS EVE DECEMBER 24.)

INTERESTING HISTORY OF SHEA’S FROM THEIR WEBSITE:

Shea’s Buffalo Theatre, the historic crown jewel of Shea’s PAC, opened in 1926 under the moniker of “The Wonder Theatre,” and was the dream of Michael Shea. Originally serving as a movie house under Paramount Pictures with “an acre of seats,” it would later stage vaudeville shows and play host to the likes of the Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, George Burns, Bob Hope, and more in the 1930’s. Later in the 1970’s, to save the theater from demolition, a group of concerned people formed The Friends of Buffalo Theatre. This not-for-profit organization worked to bring about a preliminary restoration and was responsible for getting Shea’s listed on the National Register for Historic Places. Over the past 20 years, there has been over $30 million in restoration completed, all by volunteers, at Shea’s which allows Buffalo to keep the only surviving Tiffany designed theater in magnificent condition for our patrons and the community.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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