I remember not so long ago, sitting in a 1990 movie theater, listening to the Natalie Cole song “Wild Women Do” blared on the soundtrack, a perfect score to punctuate the meteoric rise of then Hollywood ingénue, Julia Roberts. Her “hooker with a heart of gold” character Vivian even brought this Pretty Woman an Academy Award nomination that same year. Fast forward to 2018 and Pretty Woman is the latest big screen hit to be transformed into a full scale Broadway musical, doing its out of town run in the Windy City. At the helm, director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, the go to guy for these film-to-stage adaptations, also making hits out of Kinky Boots and Legally Blonde the Musical. Absent are stars Richard Gere & Julia Roberts, whose chemistry was so essential in making that Touchstone Picture a global hit. In their place two bright new talents, Les Miserables film star Samantha Barks and Tony and Grammy Award-winner Steve Kazee. Both Barks and Kazee lift the material with fantastic voices which soar higher than any the material. Speaking of, the book’s written by the original film’s director, Garry Marshall with J.F. Lawton. The pop soundtrack music from the film completely jettisoned, replaced by an original score by Grammy winning rocker, Bryan Adams & Jim Vallance, in their Broadway debut. More Rock and Roll in flavor than traditional Broadway, their score is an array of maybe three or four too many power ballads. Whether a modern day world, harshly sensitized to the #metoo and #timesup movement, has been clamoring for a new musical where the primary female hooker’s world is only improved when a white knight billionaire comes to her rescue, has yet to be determined, this Woman certainly has several surface charms.
The show hinges on its two leads. Samantha Barks is all but guaranteed a Tony nomination next season for her portrayal of Vivian, her magnificent voice projected to the rafters of the Oriental Theatre. Her “I Can’t Go Back” 11th hour power ballad proving Barks has the chops to make not only the central part her own, but the musical as well. She is also a stunner with solid comic timing. Comparisons to Robert’s are inevitable, however I found her look much more in line with Angelina Jolie, especially when sporting her act two, Gregg Barnes’ designed, tailored white suit. Her silhouette straight off of Jolie’s Oscar red carpet a few years back. As the stoic billionaire Edward, Once star Steve Kazee also has a gorgeous singing voice, demonstrated during his slew of ballads as well. With that said, his character needs a bit more fleshing out before the Broadway debut. He is currently too one note to be the requisite romantic lead they very much need him to be. Lifted by the two magnificent leads, where he rescues her and then she rescues him right back, the “never give up on your dream” theme is certainly on its way.
Also of note, the two primary supporting characters who steal every scene they are in. Loudmouth and streetwise best friend, Kit DeLuca (Tony Award-nominee and vocal powerhouse, Orfeh) and Mr. Thompson, the hotel manager (Eric Anderson) are simply put, magnificent. Thompson should also be guaranteed a Tony nomination for his array of surprise supporting characters, of which I will not spoil here. The sight gags though are quite charming. His quick change assistants clearly earning their paychecks during every show. Gregg Barnes’ costuming also strikes all the right notes. The polo match scene is an Easter Parade of pastel bonnets and fascinators reminiscent of the recent royal wedding. The eggshell adorned, mean spirited, Beverly Hills shopkeepers at “Nellies on Rodeo” and the iconic Opera scene red gown supplying all the visual nostalgia for any fan of the original film, now attending the live stage show. Lastly, Mitchell’s fantastic, flirty and frenetic choreography impressed in the few big splashy production numbers. Before opening on Broadway, this piece requires a few more peppered in overall. The ballad heavy act two needs a significant dose of more oomph!
Now the problems. The real disappointment is the show breaks absolutely no new ground as it has been reworked from the screen to the stage. You need to more than refer to this as a “love story” in all of the marketing to make this musical a real compelling love story. For all the talk about beefing up the Vivian role to be more of a feminist, this show suffers the same fatal flaw of the Sex and the City series. Is feminism truly defined through the superficial consumerism of an unlimited credit card balance or an endless array of fancy, designer stilettos, or in this case, thigh high boots held together with a safety pin? Also, anyone who has seen the film knows Vivian is a hooker who doesn’t kiss on the lips because that is deemed by her to be “too intimate”. That same absurdly silly line is used here too, so when the characters do finally kiss, it is not at the conclusion of a song, so it plays like a whimper, not a bang. This kiss should be climatic, and sadly, that tension is currently nonexistent during the scene. Also a surprise for this “emancipated” tale, the creative team is decidedly male, including David Rockwell’s scenic design, Gregg Barnes costuming, Josh Marquette Josh Marquette, lighting by Kenneth Posner & Philip S. Rosenberg and Jerry Mitchell serving as choreographer and director. Producer Paula Wagner is the lone hen in this pack of roosters.
Pretty Woman the movie was a popcorn nibbling, summer rom-com that proved far more popular than anyone involved could have ever imagined. In its current incarnation, it is doubtful this Woman will be a critical darling, but it has potential. Barks and Kazee are the undisputed champions of this piece, but they cannot play these parts forever. Orfeh and Anderson walk away as the MVP’s, although it will be a challenge for anyone to hum these songs an hour after leaving the theater. Not quite the cultural touchstone the original movie proved to be, Pretty Woman the Musical includes odes to all your favorite revenge shopping moments of the film, but forgoes much else. The fantasy elements of the story have a real challenge lifting off when tethered to the ground by the realities of the misogynistic and classist story. The good news is there is still time to work on all of this before Pretty Woman the Musical hits New York and Broadway this summer.
Pretty Woman the Musical played a 5 week pre-Broadway engagement at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago.
The Olivier Awards Return
Celebrate the very best in British theatre in a star-studded evening as the Olivier Awards return to the Royal Albert Hall on April 2nd.
Three-time Olivier Award nominee & Primetime Emmy winner, Hannah Waddingham will be hosting the awards for the first time.
The event will feature performances from all of the Best New Musical nominees, including The Band’s Visit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye. Also performing will be Oklahoma! and Sister Act, both nominated for the Best Musical Revival award, as well as Disney’s Newsies, which has been nominated for Matt Cole’s choreography.
The multi-Olivier Award winner The Book of Mormon, will be performing to mark its ten-year anniversary in the West End. Additionally, special award winner Arlene Philips will be honored with a tribute from the cast of Grease.
The ceremony will be broadcast live on Magic Radio from 6pm with Ruthie Henshall and Alice Arnold hosting.
The highlights program will also be aired on ITV1 and ITVX at 10:15 pm in the UK and via Official London Theatre’s YouTube channel elsewhere.
And the nominees are:
Out of Town
The Unpacking of the First Métis Man of Odesa, An Interview
Punctuate! Theatre is unpacking a love story. A love story about a couple. A love story about Ukraine. And a love story against an unbelievably complicated backdrop. Starting at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, the company is ushering forth the world premiere of First Métis Man of Odesa before it spins itself out on stages across Canada. Spanning continents and set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Métis playwright and Punctuate! Artistic Director, Matthew MacKenzie (Dora Award-winning playwright for Bears, After the Fire, The Particulars) joins forces with his wife, the award-winning Ukrainian actress Mariya Khomutova (Odesa Film Festival Grand Prix – The Golden Duke award-winner NONNA, Two People), to tell the story of their COVID courtship and share an intimate perspective on the personal impacts of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Drawn from their real-life love story, a story that is ultimately still unfolding to this very day, First Métis Man of Odesa unpacks the journey of Matt and Masha’s love that spans continents where distance and conflicts can’t tame their passionate connection. After meeting on a theatre research trip in Kyiv, a spark is struck, and a romance between a Métis Playwright and a Ukrainian artist is ignited, taking them from the beaches of the Black Sea to the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, within the onset of a global pandemic, the eruption of a brutal war, but also the many joyous moments that this union begets, including marriage and the birth of their son.
During the height of the lockdown in 2021, an initial version of this piece was presented as a radio play at Factory Theatre, written by MacKenzie and directed by Nina Lee Aquino. This March, First Métis Man of Odesa, as directed by Lianna Makuch (Pyretic Productions/Punctuate!’s Barvinok), makes its stage debut, offering a compelling continuation of the initial story told in that first radio play. The couple, Matthew MacKenzie and his wife, Mariya Khomutova, sat down with Frontmezzjunkies and thankfully answered a few questions about their incredible journey from that first love-struck connection to its World Premiere at The Theatre Centre in Toronto.
Tell me, how you decided to embark on telling your own story and what the beginning of this creative process looked like for you two?
Initially, Matt wrote an audio play for Factory Theatre about our romance, then getting married and having their son during the pandemic. The plan had been to expand the piece for the stage, a plan that took on much urgency after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Both the pandemic and war have a deeply dehumanizing effect, so our hope in telling our love story is to share the human side of these major world events; a human side that headlines and news clips can’t fully capture.
What aspect of your character, or your involvement with/creation of this play resonates the most powerfully inside you?
For both of us, the opportunity to share all the joy, humour, anger, and frustration we’ve experienced in the past few years is a really therapeutic process. Many of our friends and family only know snippets of what we’ve been through, so the opportunity to tell our story across the country is one we are deeply grateful for.
The phrase “you don’t know what someone is carrying with them” has really hit home over the past couple of years, as we have had to contend with some pretty epic challenges as a couple and as individuals.
Tell me a bit about what it is like to bring your character to the stage? What does mean to you to be telling this story?
We play ourselves in the play, but we very much play versions of ourselves in the play. We had to mine conflict between us out of a few outbursts, as there haven’t actually been a lot of [conflicts] in our relationship so that we could bring the drama of what we are going through to the fore.
Challenges of playing ourselves have included the fact that [Matt] is not a trained actor, while Mariya is. Mariya though comes from a theatre tradition that was almost entirely focused on the classics, so playing herself in a play based on her life is definitely a new and challenging experience!
Tell me a bit more about your development process? Was there a typical ‘first read’ or was it different, given your own story inspired the work…
We were able to conduct several development workshops over a period of six months. There was no shortage of content that we could derive from our lives, so the challenge was determining what to keep and what to let fall away. Even after our first read, we cut 15 pages from our rehearsal draft. Events in our lives and in Ukraine will no doubt continue to necessitate the evolution of our script.
What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?
For Mariya, it was buying into the idea (that is quite a common one in Canada) that a play about someone’s real life can be art. Seeing Hailey Gillis’s My Ex-boyfriend Yard Sale, really helped her believe this was possible.
For Matt, it met the challenge of performing for the first time in ten years. The last time he performed, he made his friends promise they would never let him perform again, but all agreed it didn’t make much sense for anyone else to play him in this piece.
The most rewarding?
Having already performed several shows in Kamloops, the most rewarding part of this process is sharing this story with refugees from Ukraine. Their responses have been incredible and have really encouraged us to share our story with as many people as possible.
What do you want the audience to get from this play, and from your character?
We want the audience to join us as we relive our sweeping love story, from Odesa to Toronto. We want the audience to see the human side of the conflict in Ukraine. And we want the audience to leave the theatre with the hope that love can and will conquer all.
First Métis Man of Odesa is in Toronto for its world premiere run at the Franco Boni Theatre @ The Theatre Centre from March 30 – April 8, 2023 (opening March 31). Following the world premiere in Toronto, First Métis Man of Odesa will appear at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, The Cultch in Vancouver, and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. For information and tickets, please visit theatrecentre.org/event/first-metis-man-of-odesa/
Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T
Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde
Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.
Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.
Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.
American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little Pill; Waitress; Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at AmericanRepertoryTheater.org.
Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.
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