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A woman in a blue skirt, white crop top and short blonde wig leaning on a piano and pointing

Staging Hollywood's ultimate rom-com

Based on the smash-hit film that turned Julia Roberts into a superstar, Pretty Woman is the big musical – big! huge! – that’s about to get even bigger. Following record-breaking runs on Broadway and in the West End, the show is now coming to Leeds Grand Theatre in May as part of its UK and Ireland tour.

Written by Simon Button


A fairytale rom-com

According to his wife Barbara and daughter Kathleen, the director of the film and co-writer of the musical Garry Marshall would have been thrilled to learn of its ongoing success. He passed away in 2016, after working on the production with the movie’s writer J. F. Lawton for many years and dreaming that it might open in New York someday.

Had someone told him it would be such a hit around the world he wouldn’t have believed it,” Barbara smiles proudly. “Not only did it make it to Broadway, it’s bringing joy to so many people in so many other places.”

Barbara Marshall, Lori Marshall, Scott Marshall, Kathleen Marshall and Garry Marshall grouped together smiling for the camera.

The Marshall Family. (L to R) Barbara Marshall, Lori Marshall, Scott Marshall, Kathleen Marshall and Garry Marshall.

Bronx-born Marshall was a Hollywood legend who studied journalism and, in the late 50s, landed a job writing gags for Rat Pack funnyman Joey Bishop. He broke into TV on the writing staff of The Tonight Show before adapting Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple for the small screen. An even bigger breakthrough came when he created Happy Days in 1974, followed by spin-offs Laverne & Shirley (starring his sister Penny) and Mork & Mindy.

He went on to direct such feature films as Young Doctors in Love, The Flamingo Kid, Overboard and Beaches before Pretty Woman gave him the biggest hit of his career. Set in the late 80s and released in 1990, it was conceived as a much darker story, with LA streetwise sex worker Vivian (Julia Roberts) struggling with a cocaine addiction and Edward (Richard Gere), the rich businessman who hires her for a week, abandoning her at the end.

Known for his heart-warming stories and flair for comedy, Garry worked closely with screenwriter J. F. Lawton to refashion it as a fairytale rom-com in which Vivian falls for Edward’s charms and she rescues him right back.

Marshall decided to make Vivian a more resilient character than she was in the preliminary draft. “After he got the script,” Barbara recalls, “he freshened it up and made her into this strong woman.”

Amber Davies as Vivian Ward wearing a red blazer, blue skirt and white crop top with a short blonde wig in Pretty Woman: The Musical

Amber Davies as Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman: The Musical.

Wishes come true

Barbara says: “I think [the film is] also about dreaming and wishing and showing that wishes come true sometimes.”

The idea of turning Pretty Woman into a stage show was her idea. Garry went on to direct the likes of Runaway Bride and The Princess Diaries. “But I kept saying to him, ‘You know, this could be a musical’, and he’d say, ‘Yeah, OK’, but nothing happened. Finally, maybe 15 or more years later, he and J. F. started writing together one a day week, every Wednesday in Garry’s office for five years.”

Marshall himself said of the rewrite: “It’s always nice to do something again because you saw what you missed the first time. I must confess that the original Pretty Woman was terrific and a hit but I always felt that creatively I didn’t do justice to Richard Gere’s character. So, in the musical, we have some great new moments for Richard’s character.”

Bryan Adams and his songwriting partner Jim Vallance were commissioned to write the all-new score, which is very much influenced by late 80s and early 90s rock and pop. Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman was added a few months into the show’s Broadway run, and Wesley and Alex Orbison even joined the cast on stage to perform the track as a tribute to their late father.

Eventually, producer Paula Wagner came on board, as did director Jerry Mitchell. Marshall passed away in July 2016 at the age of 81, but the team was determined to carry on and fulfill his dream of having a show on Broadway. “He was so excited about that,” Kathleen says. “He loved revisiting the story and transforming it into a musical, adding the songs and changing some of the structure. As Jerry Mitchell said: ‘It’s all the things you love from the movie and more’.”

Oliver Savile as Edward Lewis in a suit in Pretty Woman: The Musical.

Oliver Savile as Edward Lewis in Pretty Woman: The Musical. Photo Marc Brenner.

Audience responses

The original production played Chicago’s Oriental Theatre in March 2018, with Britain’s Samantha Barks and US actor Steve Kazee as the leads, and opened at Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre that August, breaking box office records and enjoying a year-long run. Andy Karl took over from Kazee and, during previews, a performance was dedicated to Marshall, with none other than Julia Roberts in attendance.

“She came and met the cast and we took pictures on the stage,” Barbara remembers fondly. “She was very cute. We were sitting together during the show and she would lean over and say, ‘I wrote that line’.”

The show played Hamburg in Germany in 2019 and the West End production opened at the Piccadilly Theatre in March 2020, with Aimie Atkinson as Vivian and Danny Mac as Edward. Forced to close because of the COVID pandemic, it reopened at the Savoy Theatre in July 2021, playing to packed houses until the final performance in June 2023.

As it sets off around the UK and Ireland, Kathleen ponders why audiences respond so positively to this particular story. “There’s a beautiful moment in Pretty Woman where you know that Edward sees who Vivian is and Vivian sees who Edward is, and that’s where they connect. There’s a joyousness in the way that people connect in my dad’s shows and films, and he did that in life as well. He really thought you should be there for people when it’s a hard day and be there for them when it’s a fun day.”

Barbara adds: “I think everybody remembers that movie as a happy moment or it helped them with something in their life.” She grins. “Now people come to this musical wearing the clothes, like the famous red dress or the trench coat with the same Julia outfit underneath, in the high boots and blonde wigs.”

And, as Kathleen points out, it’s not just for female audiences: “They bring their husbands and boyfriends, who then end up really enjoying it too.” She smiles. “There’s a lot there in the storytelling that’s really beautiful and romantic and uplifting, and I think everyone can connect to that.

Vivian and Edward standing together on a bench as the rest of the Pretty Woman cast stand around them reaching towards them.

Amber Davies as Vivian Ward and Oliver Savile as Edward Lewis with the cast of Pretty Woman: The Musical.

Amber Davies as Vivian Ward and Oliver Savile as Edward Lewis, both wearing white with the logo Pretty Woman: The Musical in red behind them.

Amber Davies as Vivian Ward and Oliver Savile as Edward Lewis in Pretty Woman: The Musical.