Let us give you a tip: Pretty Woman’s Broadway adaptation is a sure thing.
After years of anticipation, planning, and tragedy, the musical version of Garry Marshall’s 1990 classic is finally about to begin its casting process. Directed by Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde: The Musical), with a book by Marshall and the film’s original screenwriter J.F. Lawton, and a new score by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, Pretty Woman is aiming for the 2018-2019 season on Broadway.
As he prepares his search for the perfect star to step into Julia Roberts’s thigh-high boots, Mitchell spoke with EW about his vision for the show, what iconic scenes are getting the Broadway treatment, and which moments we won’t see.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s your approach to the Pretty Woman musical? Garry Marshall had said it was going to be “peppier.”
JERRY MITCHELL: The basic difference is, of course, we’re dealing with a brand-new musical score written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance — they’ve written 23 songs for this musical, and they are rock driven, beautiful ballads, and they do have a lot of pep in them.
The movie is a very close-up film, and stage shows of course can’t be close-ups. You have to make them more important and more necessary and more immediate, so that’s the difference.
I was re-watching the movie this morning and looking at the opera scene, for example — it’s all in Julia Roberts’s face. How are you going to do something like that?
Oh, it’s going to be so beautiful. I’m going to have an opera box that’s sort of going to be floating around the stage while the opera is going to be happening all around them. [Vallance and Adams have] written a beautiful, beautiful ballad called “You and I” that takes us from the night they’re getting dressed to go to the opera, all the way to the opera, then I’ve included the opera ball, where everybody’s dancing after the opera at the gala. That takes them back to the penthouse suite where they’re getting undressed and getting ready for bed and he falls asleep. It’s all in one number. It’s going to be quite romantic and magical, I hope.
What are the other moments you knew immediately, “We have to keep this”?
Well, I knew she was going to have to go back to Rodeo Drive and go back to that shop and say, “Big mistake. Huge.” It’s in a song called “You’re Beautiful.” It’s a big number, and she succeeds in a big way.
Is it still set in the same time period as the film, or are we in modern day?
Late ‘80s, early ‘90s. But you know, I’m trying to make it work in any period, sort of like a timeless fairytale — a real Cinderella story for the stage. You see Vivian at the top of the show, and she’s Cinderella in the ashes: She’s working on Hollywood Boulevard and things aren’t going well, and she doesn’t have the money for the rent, and Skinny Marie just died. She’s got to get out of there, and she wants to get out of there. She never wanted to be there in the first place. So we take that journey with her.
One of the things I love about the movie is at the end, she’s getting out on her own, even before she realizes he’s coming back. It’s kind of feminist in that way.
Yes. It’s still very much the story. And also, in the stage version, I’ve made Kit an older friend who’s been working on Hollywood Boulevard for a long time. Because Vivian has been able to make that change, Kit also is going to make that change. She serves as more like a big sister to [Vivian]. In the stage version, Vivian’s only been there three to six months. She’s really new at it, and she doesn’t know what she’s doing, and she’s really not comfortable in the element.
You’re about to start the casting process. What does your Vivian need to have? It’s going to be tough to match Julia Roberts’s charisma.
I mean, Julia Roberts was sensational, as was Richard Gere. But what films magically do is they’re able to go in close on an actor’s face and give you a whole series of emotions in a few seconds. In a musical, those moments can’t happen, of course, with a close-up, so they usually turn into songs — that’s how the character expresses what they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.
So my Vivian needs to be able to sing like a dream, obviously, because it’s a new show and a new score, 23 songs and she’s got 8 of them, I think. With the role of Vivian, I’m looking for a girl who is vulnerable, who can share those emotions on stage. Also comic timing: It’s going to have a lot of comedy in it. Somebody who’s really funny is going to be important to the part.
How about Richard Gere’s role of Edward?
We have to feel like Edward’s been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Again, he has to be an incredible singer — but most importantly, someone who can appear, even with all of that, extremely lost in social skills. It has to be an actor that walks onstage and you immediately like him and feel comfortable with him, even though he’s not quite comfortable with his own situation yet.
Another one of the things Garry had said was that we’re going to get more of Edward’s backstory.
We have a lot more of Edward in the show. Garry told me that Richard Gere would always say, “You don’t need me. You just need a suit. It’s all about her!” — in a funny way. But obviously he did need him, and Richard Gere was sensational. But what I really want is for them to be equals. Look, the last line of the movie, and the last line of the musical is, “After he rescued her, she rescued him right back.” So that means they both have to be lost at the beginning of the story, so they find their way by finding each other.
Are the jokes going to be transposed pretty much as they are? Like “We both screw people for money.”
Uh huh. That’s still in! There’s a lot of great stuff in the film that of course would be in it. “Cinder-f—in’-rella.” I can’t even contemplate doing this musical without that line! We’ll see if it stays, but I’m hoping it does!
Are there any new characters?
Do you remember in the film the guy on the street, the homeless guy who’s saying, “Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody’s got a dream.” He’s sort of turned into Mr. Thompson at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The actor plays the fairy godfather role in the story, so we see him as that character, and he turns into Mr. Thompson and becomes her helper and guide. That role onstage has become a bigger idea.
So is he Mr. Thompson at the beginning?
He’s the happy man selling maps to the stars on Hollywood Boulevard. He can be anybody he needs to be — he pops in and out throughout the whole show, in different places. It’s really fun.
Is there anything that’s been removed from the movie?
I had to take out the bathtub [where Vivian sings along to Prince in the bubble bath]. But I think I’ve put in something equally as fun and funny.
Is there a polo match?
No, we go to Stucky’s [Edward’s lawyer, played by Jason Alexander in the film] house where he’s actually throwing a Hawaiian luau for the senator. That secondary story about taking over the shipyard and Morris Industries has changed quite a bit to work in the musical context. Edward’s going to try and hostile takeover Mr. Morris’s company which is a shipping company that they’re changing into a leisure cruise ship line. Vivian comes into play a little bit more in it.
And the snails are gone! But that was Garry as much as it was me. He said, “We’re not going to do that onstage! You can’t see ‘em!” I said, “You’re right.”
Is it replaced with something?
Well in that scene, what Vivian really does is she charms Mr. Morris and all of them at the dining room table. So what I have her doing is she actually ends up dancing with Mr. Morris and charms him with a dance.
You know the scene where Mr. Thompson teaches her about cutlery and all that stuff? There’s a beautiful song Bryan has written for Mr. Thompson where he teaches her how to dance to get her ready for the night. It’s sort of ballroom dancing, really. She goes out and wows everyone with her moves.
Can you say a little more about the songs? You said they’re rock driven, but are they going to sound like late ‘80s, early ‘90s?
Yeah. That’s one of the great things about Bryan Adams — it’s where he lives. So you’ve got the rock and roll stuff, the up-tempos. Everybody’s toes are tapping when they hear these new songs. The last song of the show, when she says, “No, I can’t stay,” and she leaves, they sing this beautiful ballad called “Long Way Home” between the two of them. It’s gorgeous — I really mean it. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
And [Edward] also sings a beautiful song — you know in the film when he goes down to the lobby to play the piano and she finds him and they have sex on top of the piano? We put the piano in the penthouse, so she’s in the other room changing, and he goes over to the piano and he starts singing about where he is and where he wants to be, and she comes out and sees him and then they do it on top of the piano. It’s a beautiful song for Edward, and lets you know a lot about him that you weren’t expecting.
The movie has such fabulous clothes — are we going to see any of those same outfits onstage, or nods to them?
Probably a couple. I won’t tell you which ones, but…
You have to keep the blue and white dress, and you have to keep the red one!
I mean, it might be a little different, but come on. She’s going to the gala. She’s got to have a red opera dress. It’s going to be beautiful.