‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’: Bringing Garry Marshall’s Passion Project to Life (Exclusive)

Pretty Woman Broadway
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How the cast and creative team are maintaining the late director’s legacy and breathing new life into the iconic Julia Roberts film.

Let’s get one thing straight: The song “Oh, Pretty Woman” is nowhere to be heard in the new musical adaptation of Pretty Woman.

Neither Roy Orbison’s 1964 record -- which inspired the title of the 1990 romantic comedy about Vivian (Julia Roberts), a prostitute who falls in love with a wealthy businessman named Edward, and which plays in the background of the now-iconic scene where Vivian goes on a shopping spree along Rodeo Drive -- nor the songs from the Pretty Woman soundtrack are part of the upcoming Broadway show. “We don’t want it to [have] old songs. We want it to be a new score,” Bryan Adams -- yes, that Bryan Adams -- explains to ET about co-writing original music and lyrics for the musical with Jim Vallance.

The production starring Samantha Barks (Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables) as Vivian and Steve Kazee (Shameless) as Edward begins out-of-town tryouts on March 13 at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago before heading to Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre in July. The musical was originally conceived by the film’s creator and writer, the late Garry Marshall, and producer Paula Wagner to be a jukebox musical, but it was Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell who approached Marshall and Wagner to change their minds. “I convinced them [original songs were] the way to go and Garry said, ‘You’re right. Let’s do it,’” Mitchell says.

The musical had been in the planning stages for two decades before Marshall passed away at 81 in July 2016, but he saw most of his vision come to life during several workshops. “He knew it was happening. He saw the first act with music and he was sure it was going to Broadway,” says his widow, Barbara Marshall. “We wondered what would happen to the production without him. It was a bit nerve racking because this project was still in the beginning stages, even though he had been writing it for three or four years with J.F. Lawton,” Marshall’s co-writer on the film’s screenplay and the show’s book.

But with Mitchell, who has become an expert at translating hit films for the stage, serving as director and choreographer, Pretty Woman: The Musical is finally happening. He’s turned Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Catch Me If You Can and Kinky Boots into Broadway juggernauts, explaining that it’s all about “larger-than-life” characters. “There is no one but Jerry Mitchell who could have done this,” touts Wagner. “He knows how to bring it and use it.”

Samantha Banks and Steve Kazee shot on location at The Metropolitan Opera. - Andrew Eccles

“I fell in love with this show when I first saw this movie, and I knew at that moment it would make a great musical,” Mitchell explains of joining the creative team. This version -- which is described as a true Cinderella story with a modern tone to it -- is also set in the ‘90s, but only hints at the decade when it takes place. “I didn’t want it to be funny. I wanted the show to be a classic love story in a timeless period like a good fairytale is,” Mitchell says. “With where we are as a world, I thought Vivian is a strong character and I think the music and book have only strengthened that to tell this story about a girl who kisses the prince and wakes him up.”

“I think they are going to be blown away -- it’s pretty high-powered,” Adams says, revealing he and Vallance wrote about 35 new songs for the show, which were whittled down to the production’s final 23 numbers. “I have been sent down a rabbit hole a few times with things that just didn’t happen. All of it was about experimentation and getting to the point where we are today. It’s quite rock n’ roll, but there is a lot of tenderness because it’s a love story. You are going to cry when you come to this.”

One of the show-stopping numbers -- the act I finale featuring lots of dancing -- will be Vivian’s big shopping scene, which Adams calls “wild.” An earlier shopping song, called “Rodeo Drive” includes Vivian’s street-walking friend, Kit de Luca (played by Orfeh). “It is everything you wish it was going to be,” teases Orfeh, who is making an anticipated return to Broadway a decade after being nominated for a Tony for her performance in Legally Blonde.

There’s also a big musical sequence when Edward and Vivian, dressed in a red gown, go to the opera. “She starts getting in the dress, she goes to the opera,” Mitchell describes. “She goes home, gets undressed and [Vivian and Edward] get into bed together. That’s all one beautiful Bryan Adams love ballad that’s going to knock people’s socks off.”

“The opera element in the movie is such a beautiful moment, and my dad loved opera,” explains Marshall’s daughter Kathleen. “He always saw a musical component to it, [so] to expand it into a musical and have the opera scene there makes it a beautiful way to bring it to a new audience [in] 2018 with music.”

Of course there is pressure to get the show right and not disappoint the film’s longtime fans. “I would never want to be a part of destroying people’s memories of this film,” says Kazee. “You’re just creating a piece of art.” A work of art that’s now being mounted as Marshall’s legacy, Kathleen boasts: “It’s such an honor to [dad] that they are following in what they knew was his passion project.”