Sunday 20 February 2022

Theatre Review: Pretty Woman: The Musical (Teatr Muzyczny, Łódź)


With both Waitress and Once currently being presented at Warsaw's Teatr Muzyczny Roma, it's obvious that the appetite of Polish theatre audiences for West End or Broadway-originated musicals, especially those derived from films, remains strong. 

Having opened late last year after a long pandemic-necessitated delay, Łódź's latest addition to the list of imports is Pretty Woman, the musical version of Garry Marshall's seminal romantic comedy, with music and lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. The Łódź production is directed at Teatr Muzyczny by the theatre's artistic director, Jakub Szydłowski. And it's not the only take on the show in the country, either: for those wanting to play "compare and contrast," Krakow's Variété Theatre also has a production running concurrently.

When the musical premiered on Broadway in 2018 and then in London in 2019 (where it's currently at the Savoy Theatre) critics were quick to point out the "problematic" elements of the material's Cinderella-meets-Pygmalion set up, in which Hollywood hooker Vivian Ward finds love with the businessman Edward Lewis after he's paid for her services - as if people hadn't been making such critiques since the film's release in 1990. (Among actresses who turned down Julia Roberts's star-making role over concerns about the "tone" of the script and its "degrading view of women" were Michelle Pfieffer and Daryl Hannah.) 

In most respects a facsimile of the film, with a book penned by Marshall and the film's screenwriter J.F. Lawton, Pretty Woman: The Musical certainly doesn't attempt a revisionist view of its source's sexual politics. What Szydłowski's production does do, though, is add a bit of a meta framework - mild but nonetheless welcome - which presents the production in the context of a sound stage film set, complete with crew, cameras,  clapperboards and the occasional "re-take" for a flubbed line. You'd hesitate to call it Brechtian, but, carried through to a witty curtain call, this self-conscious conceit puts a little bit of distance on the material, serving as a wry reminder of its origins. 

Pretty Woman: The Musical
© Teatr Muzyczny w Łodzi, Michał Matuszak

Otherwise the show offers a faithful, straight-down-the-line retread that delivers the expected mix of comedy, light social satire and romance. (Its machine-tooled slickness is the opposite of the last musical I saw, the National Theatre's wonky but characterful Hex.) Adams and Vallance's songs, with their upfront "80s pop/rock sensibilities, are generic and lyrically banal but serviceable and easy on the ear (well, except for the shrill "Rodeo Drive"): they sound good here in Polish translation by Daniel Wyszogrodzki, and are enhanced by fun, diverse choreography by Jarosław Staniek and Katarzyna Zielonka. 

Budgetary constraints are evident in elements of Grzegorz Policiński's  design - such as a meant-to-be-palatial Beverly Hills penthouse suite that looks more like the set of a 1970s sitcom. But there's an affectionate early '90s nostalgia to aspects like the displayed Cher, Thelma & Louise, and Terminator 2 posters. And the production reaches its romantic apex in a simply beautiful staging of the opera scene, with the La Traviata performance interwoven with the musical's centrepiece romantic ballad "You and I," that moves the couple from opera box to the stage and back to the apartment. It's the show's standout sequence in terms of fully integrating song, dance, design and lighting to develop character and move the narrative forward. 

Pretty Woman: The Musical
© Teatr Muzyczny w Łodzi, Justyna Tomczak

From costume choices to hairstyle to physique, Malwina Kusior as Vivian hews closely to Julia Roberts in the film. But Kusior succeeds in creating a strong audience rapport from the start, and from her impassioned delivery of Vivian's early "I want" song "Anywhere But Here" ("Jak najdalej stąd" - hej, Domalewski!), she makes all the musical moments count. As Edward, Marcin Jajkiewicz brings less to the party, but he does well by the soul-baring ballad "Wolność" which sounds much stronger and more meaningful here than in its blander English language incarnation, "Freedom".
A solid ensemble offers lively support, including Paweł Erdman as the hotel manager who schools Vivien in etiquette in an amusingly done number, and the ebullient Maciek Pawlak in two roles, including Erdman's bellboy sidekick. The biggest departure in terms of characterisation is Małgorzata Chrusciel's brassy, peroxided Kit, who's closer to a full-on John Waters heroine here than to Laura San Giacomo in the film. The definition of a fun, undemanding night out (though definitely over-extended at a whopping 3 hours), judging by the enthusiastic response of the packed audience it's easy to see Pretty Woman taking its place alongside Les MisMiss Saigon and Madagascar as a popular new addition to Teatr Muzyczny's repertoire. 

Pretty Woman: The Musical is booking at Teatr Muzyczny. Further information here

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