Theatre Review: Pretty Woman: The Musical – Palace Theatre, Manchester

Elly Jay and Oliver Savile in PRETTY WOMAN UK Tour. Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

With standout performances and a feel-good vibe, PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL brings a refreshing take but is unlikely to rival musical theatre classics.

3 out of 5 stars

Another hit movie has been made into a modern-day musical. Following in the footsteps of DIRTY DANCING, GHOST and BACK TO THE FUTURE, PRETTY WOMAN, the 1990 smash-hit rom-com, takes to Manchester’s Palace Theatre as a musical for the first time.

Audiences are whisked back to the mid-80s, where ‘lady of the street’ Vivian has her life changed forever when she meets wealthy businessman Edward. She becomes swept up in the romance, charmed by Edward’s affection. In a MY FAIR LADY-style glow-up, Vivian learns to become a lady while keeping her wit and cunning.

As Amber Davies continues her run on ITV’s DANCING ON ICE, the audience is treated to Manchester’s own Paige Fenlon as Vivian Ward. Whilst taking some time to relax into her performance, her Vivian is somewhat different to the one the audience knows and loves. It is a hard performance to follow from movie royalty Julia Roberts, but Fenlon makes the role her own, taking a less raw and spirited approach and providing a more quirky and wholesome Vivian.

Natalie Paris and Noah Harrison in PRETTY WOMAN UK Tour. Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

Walking in the footsteps of Richard Gere is Ben Darcy as Edward Lewis – no mean feat. His portrayal is likeable, respectful and pleasant, but with the best will in the world, he doesn’t bring the ruthless arrogance that Gere oozes. His vocals are sweet, but this character, not necessarily to the fault of Darcy, lacks depth, falling too hard too quickly for Vivian, lacking the charisma and journey from cold, heartless businessman to romantic and loving.

Audiences may also recognise Ore Oduba as Mr Thompson, with several narrator-type roles throughout. He’s energetic and engaging and provides some light relief between emotional scenes. However, the comedic elements are mainly provided by the bellboy character, Giulio, played by Noah Harrison. His impeccable dance moves and on-point comedic timing are personal highlights from the show.

Natalie Paris is a force to be reckoned with. Musical theatre audiences may recognise Paris as the original Jane Seymour from the triumphant pop musical SIX. Playing Kit De Luca, Vivianne’s mentor and best friend, Paris’ talent dwarfs that of her co-stars as she wows with her powerful and silky-smooth vocals, bringing her musical theatre prowess to the stage.

Ben Darcy and Oliver Savile in PRETTY WOMAN UK Tour. Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

The score for the show is somewhat bland and detached, with the only number of note being I CAN’T GO BACK: the number in Act 2 when Vivian realises she’s become a different version of herself, a version she doesn’t want to lose. Sang impressively by Paige Fenlon, this feels like the song in which she finally comes into the spotlight and commands the stage with her remarkable belt.

Overall, the second act brings more to admire than the first. There’s no doubt that, like many others of its kind, within the movie-to-musical format, the show knows exactly who its audience is and how to please them. With many a ‘winks’ to the audience and a demanded encore of the title movie song, Pretty Woman, the show leaves its audience on a high, getting the whole crowd up and dancing in the aisles.

In no way will this musical stand against musical theatre classics; it is not setting the world alight.  However, there definitely is a place and an audience for this new musical theatre style. It’s feel-good, it’s fun and annoyingly loveable. Undoubtedly, if you’re a fan of the movie, you’d be making a “big mistake, huge” by missing this show.

PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, until 16 March 2024.