Healthy and General

‘Pretty Woman’: How Female Empowerment Was Key to Musical

3 min read

Garry Marshall’s romantic comedy “Pretty Woman” starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts continues to wow audiences through both the 1990 film and subsequent musical adaptation. But how does one translate a beloved musical from screen to stage?

Marshall had always wanted to create a Broadway musical. Speaking with Variety, daughter Kathleen Marshall says, “He felt ‘Pretty Woman’ was the one to make. Barbara [Marshall’s widow] would always encourage him to think about it.” It wasn’t until 2013 when Marshall and the film’s screenwriter J.F. Lawton reconnected to write the musical.

Kathleen Marshall says, “They started writing every Wednesday afternoon for several years, and Barbara was thrilled. Garry was happy to be writing the musical with Lawton because they both had spent time with these characters and had a clear vision of how they wanted to write the musical.”

Garry Marshall and producer Paula Wagner, who worked on “Mission: Impossible” and “Mission: Impossible 2,” had one concern in bringing the beloved film to stage: How was it going to work?” Wagner says, “It’s about your audience experience, and how through their eyes they experience this.”

Wagner and the team had to go back to the ‘90s. Wagner says, “It’s a great love story because it plays to a fantasy that all of us collectively share, which is we wanted our fantasies to work out. We want an ending where we all go off into the sunset.” She adds the modern-day Cinderella story about a prostitute (Roberts) and a wealthy businessman (Gere) who fall for each other and bridge the gap in their very different worlds is a story about hope, aspiration and redemption. Says Wagner, “Tragedy is everywhere you turn, so to be able to walk into a theater and go on the imagination ride through what you hope and what you dream is comfort food.” Wagner says the story of empowerment is still very relevant in today’s world, and that was the key to adapting it.

If the story remained timeless, it could also transcend different mediums. With Lawton and Garry Marshall working on the stage script and getting into a seamless flow, the next step was looking at how to use dialogue and turn that into music.

Singer Bryan Adams had heard rumblings about the musical happening and expressed an interest in composing the music. He and musical collaborator Jim Vallance successfully auditioned. The stage show was not going to use any of the songs, such as Roxette’s “Must’ve Been Love” or Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking.” Instead, Adams and Vallance would write all new music. “We wanted to use music to see her vulnerability. We wanted to take the basic pulse of the story and convert it, so you sing your inner thoughts. If anyone could do that, it was Bryan and Jim,” says Wagner.

“Finding your authentic voice and finding the love of your life” was key to the adaptation, says Wagner. She stresses it needed to show how strong and empowered Roberts’ Vivian Ward is. “The musical had to show that she was willing to walk away from everything because she couldn’t be bought. She had her direction and she was going to stick with it. A butterfly emerged and the butterfly was very strong and empowered.” That was shown not only through the music of Adams and Vallance in the song, “I Can’t Go Back,” but also through costume design. Toward the end, Gregg Barnes’ costumes underscore empowerment when Vivian demands the dream. Wagner says, “The iconic outfits needed to be there, such as the thigh-high leather boots, or the red dress. But you get something deeper and more illuminating on stage, and more contemporary. The show ends with her wearing a high-style classy white pantsuit.”

“Pretty Woman the Musical” is playing at the Dolby through July 3 and will transfer to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts from July 5-15.