Pretty Woman Review: Do We Really Need Cinderella Retold?

The play Pretty Woman is at Providence Performing Arts Center through Oct 16. And while it’s a pretty production, it’s a pretty awful story. 

Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli in Pretty Woman: The Musical. Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Pretty Woman (the film) was released in 1990 – four years before I was born – and the narrative has grown completely stale. Perhaps older theater-goers attended because of rose-tinted memories of the early nineties. Perhaps people were there to welcome the first PPAC production post-COVID. 

But as a millennial, I couldn’t see past the blatant obscenities of the world on which the story hinges.  

Vivian Ward, a down-on-her-luck prostitute who works on Hollywood Boulevard, has a chance encounter with billionaire Edward Lewis who is lost and needs directions to his hotel. They end up hitting it off, and Edward hires her to be his escort for the week he’s in LA to engineer a hostile takeover of a struggling shipping company, fire its employees, and sell off its assets. Eventually, Vivian’s heart of gold, humanity and charm win over Edward, and he decides he’s not going to destroy the company, but instead repurpose it with the current owner to make cruise ships instead. 

An upbeat story about billionaires and sex workers post Trump? 

First, unregulated sex work is a gritty, violent, miserable reality for an estimated 1-2 million Americans. It is not fun and flirty as the play depicts, especially with the looming threat of human trafficking. Second, gee whiz, thanks for reminding us of our capitalistic dystopia where the livelihoods of thousands depend on one wealthy man’s troubled relationship with his dad. (It was revealed that Edward’s strained relationship with his deceased father caused him to be so heartless in his business dealings.) But wait, because of Vivian, the jobs are saved… to make cruise ships, one of the world’s most prodigious polluters. Wonderful. We’re elated. Not. 

Some audience members really enjoyed themselves. Ethical problems aside, the production is breathtaking. Jessica Crouch as Vivian’s friend Kit De Luca and Kyle Taylor Parker as Happy Man both have incredible stage presence. Amma Osei surprises with a spectacular opera number, and Nico DeJesus’ choreography is delightfully stunning. And the towering set evokes all our favorite Hollywood spots like Rodeo Drive and the Beverly Wilshire. 

Three decades ago, it was possible to separate a light romantic comedy from the social dilemmas it presents, but today’s zeitgeist demands more from its entertainment. We don’t need another tired Prince Charming story where a rich man saves a poor girl’s life. Give us something to grapple with, something original and something real.