From the monochrome theatrics of 1942’s “Casablanca” to the enthralling choreography of 2016’s “La La Land,” it’s safe to say that throughout history, people have always loved a good romance. Maybe it’s nice to project onto all the hopeless romantic characters or finally be able to visualize your own happily ever after. No matter what your reasoning is, we can all agree that there’s something so enticing about that genre. Over the years, new interpretations of old love stories have become more and more frequent, but does this automatically lead to their appeal becoming lost in translation?
Like all other genres, romance comes with its own list of classics. One of the most notable by far would have to be the early 1990 release: “Pretty Woman.” Led by Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, the story follows a prostitute that finds herself involved in a deal with a rich man through which they end up mutually falling in love. The movie was more recently adapted into a Broadway musical and now a national tour, featuring the talented Olivia Valli as Vivian and Broadway royalty Adam Pascal as Edward. I had the exciting opportunity to see the production done on Sept. 15 at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. Through watching the movie beforehand and seeing the musical in person, I began to wonder what exactly made the on-screen romantic comedy different from its musical theater replica.
One striking feature of live theater, and this show specifically, is the blocking. For those that may not know, the term “blocking” refers to the way in which cast members move about the stage in ways that help progress and otherwise enhance the storyline. In the “Pretty Woman” musical, lively choreography is executed to new original songs. Actors spare no expense in taking up every bit of space and utilizing the set to their advantage. Consequently, the audience is able to survey the entirety of the stage rather than what is otherwise confined to a movie or even phone screen. In films, actors are often confined to a much smaller area when delivering their lines which may not allow for as much wide and fast-paced movement. Screen acting does, however, have the benefit of allowing viewers to closely observe characters’ facial expressions and hone in on their personal moments. It would seem that the differences between the two come down to the amount of space that is available to performers and visible to audiences, as well as how and to what extent the space is being used.
Another detail to become aware of when watching any form of media is the use of color. It is no secret in the film industry especially that color symbolism is a clever tactic used by many creatives. Color symbolism is the concept of using different colors to convey certain emotions, patterns, or messages to the audience. This is typically done through lighting which can apply to both live theater and movies, but there is another way that this type of symbolism can be executed — through wardrobe.
Keeping in mind that most messages in all forms of media are often subjective, both renditions of “Pretty Woman” offer fashion as its own form of storytelling. In the beginning of both versions when we are introduced to Vivian, she wears bold, eye-catching clothing, particularly with her iconic blue miniskirt and ruby trench coat combo. These vibrant colors could be an early indicator of her fiery and outspoken personality.
As the musical opens, Edward is wearing a plain gray business suit, most likely to show off his seriousness and professionalism. As the plot evolves, Vivian can be seen wearing less and less flashy and extravagant clothing, all leading up to her final outfit: blue jeans and a black blazer in the film and a clean, white pantsuit in the musical. In both, it is clear that Vivian’s style has changed to a more sleek and professional aesthetic, devoid of the flashy accessories and vivid hues that she once wore. Seeing this change in both productions was a possible hint that Vivian lost a bit of her personality in an attempt to fit in with the “right” crowd.
Although the wardrobe in both the film and theater versions were quite similar, the same can’t necessarily be said about their respective soundtracks. In the movie, instrumentals were used most often to set the scenes and make the locations feel realistic. In the musical adaptation, the new original songs are a primary focus. It is worth noting that both productions did, in fact, manage to include the title’s namesake 1964 hit “Oh, Pretty Woman” as a closing song. The songs in the musical, however, allow the audience to see into characters’ thoughts and hear their true desires through emotive choreography and heartfelt lyrics.
One particular song worth mentioning is the opening sequence of “Welcome to Hollywood.” Kyle Taylor Parker gives an awe-inspiring performance as Happy Man, a sort of narrator, hotel manager, and community figure rolled up into one. In the song, “Happy Man,” Kit (played by the brilliant Jessica Crouch), and the rest of the illustrious company introduce the setting in a way that is captivating and leaves you wanting more. While a series of establishing shots in a film can also do the trick, having an entire song dedicated to introducing much of the cast and a sneak peak into their lives does not at all disappoint.
Romances like “Pretty Woman” often become and remain classics for good reason. As times continue to change, so do the ways that we view and receive the iconic films that we know and love. The dialogue in both the film and theater versions were almost the same to a T (that’s right, we get to hear Vivian’s famous “Big mistake. Huge.” line), but other features have been noticeably changed. It is apparent that part of what makes romantic comedies so enjoyable to watch is that you can seek out one that suits your tastes and preferences. The same is true for the way in which you choose to watch them.
Although the songs and styling may tend to vary between the film and the musical adaptation of “Pretty Woman,”, the appeal and most importantly, the messages and characters that we cherish are never truly lost, just reimagined for new generations to love and enjoy.
VOX teens had the opportunity to see “Pretty Woman: The Musical” at the Fox Theatre, thanks to the generosity of VOX ATL’s community partner Most Valuable Kids Atlanta.