Bryan Does Broad­way

With orig­i­nal mu­sic and lyrics by Bryan Adams and his long-time writ­ing part­ner, Jim Val­lance, the new pro­duc­tion Pretty Wo­man: The Mu­si­cal takes a bow

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Pretty Wo­man: The Mu­si­cal takes a bow with mu­sic and lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Val­lance

AS IF FLOAT­ING on a cloud of late ’80s nos­tal­gia, a poster for Pretty Wo­man: The Mu­si­cal hangs high above the Ned­er­lan­der Theatre on West 41st Street in New York City, where it opened in Au­gust. The 1990 Gary Mar­shall-di­rected Hol­ly­wood smash from Dis­ney that ce­mented Richard Gere’s lead­ing man sta­tus and cat­a­pulted Ju­lia Roberts into a bright, undim­ming star­dom, has been reimag­ined for Broad­way. Al­most three decades later, the mu­si­cal’s poster echoes that of the film. You re­mem­ber the one, where Gere’s char­ac­ter Ed­ward Lewis – the greed-is-good cor­po­rate raider in search of his soul – stands back to back with Robert’s Vi­vian Ward, the ef­fer­ves­cent and mag­i­cally whole­some hooker with a heart of gold, who play­fully tugs on his tie. Ex­cept in the movie’s ver­sion, Vi­vian is clad in her work­ing garb, all fleshy cutouts and naughty thigh-high boots while, in the mu­si­cal’s ver­sion, Vi­vian is all cov­ered up in the rich­lady red gown and white opera gloves she wears dur­ing a piv­otal mo­ment in the ro­mance af­ter her street-tochic makeover.

The sun­nily sub­ver­sive fem­i­nist bent em­bed­ded in the fairy tale is faith­fully re­tained in the stage ver­sion. Vi­vian is no vic­tim but a wo­man in con­trol of her choices. “We say who, we say when, we say how much” is her and her wing­woman Kit’s mantra, and the happy end­ing comes af­ter she de­cides that she is worth “more.” She is only “res­cued” af­ter Ed­ward ac­qui­esces to what­ever “more” is, pre­sum­ably putting a ring on it, in re­turn for Vi­vian’s emo­tional res­cue of him – ah, true trans­ac­tional love. Yet the poster’s wardrobe up­date is telling. Pretty Wo­man: The Mu­si­cal ( PWTM) comes at a mo­ment when it’s an un­der­state­ment to say women are de­mand­ing to be seen as much more than the ob­jec­ti­fy­ing way just “pretty” im­plies. And, like a Zeit­geist- y wall of em­pow­er­ment, a series of signs in­stalled side by side in the lobby of the Nerder­lan­der read Bold Wo­man, Strong Wo­man, Funny Wo­man, Smart Wo­man, Fierce Wo­man.

Like Ju­lia Roberts be­fore her, Sa­man­tha Barks, who stars as PWTM’s tit­u­lar char­ac­ter, does a re­mark­able job of play­ing Vi­vian as all those things. But Roberts did not have to sing (if you can de­scribe her Walk­man-in­duced ren­di­tion of Prince’s “Kiss” in that mem­o­rable bath­tub scene as singing). Barks won this iconic role be­cause of, well, “Every­thing,” emails the Tony Award-win­ning ( Les Cage aux Folles, Kinky Boots) PWTM direc­tor and chore­og­ra­pher Jerry Mitchell, who cast her. “She has an ef­fort­lessly stun­ning qual­ity that makes the au­di­ence get on her side im­me­di­ately,” he raves. “She also has one of the most amaz­ing voices I have ever had the plea­sure of di­rect­ing on any stage.” Dur­ing PWTM, you will not hear Barks, an es­tab­lished Bri­tish tal­ent ac­claimed for her turn as Épo­nine in the film ver­sion of Les Mis­er­ables, sing “Kiss.” And do not ex­pect the Roy Or­bi­son clas­sic “Pretty Wo­man,” which be­came syn­ony­mous with the movie when it played dur­ing the mon­tage of Vi­vian’s tri­umphant shop­ping spree and strut down Rodeo Drive, to pop up. It won’t be missed, as au­di­ences are treated to a suite of orig­i­nal en­velop­ing new songs through which the un­likely love story un­folds. “When work­ing on any mu­si­cal and es­pe­cially one from a film, the NEW ele­ment is the NEW SCORE,” writes Mitchell, the caps his. “Bryan and Jim wrote songs for the char­ac­ters. That is the dif­fer­ence be­tween a film score and [a] mu­si­cal li­bretto.” By Bryan and Jim, Mitchell is, of course, re­fer­ring to Bryan Adams and Jim Val­lance, the leg­endary Cana­dian song­writ­ing duo.

“IT WAS A DREAM of mine from the first time I saw the film in the ’90s,” says Mitchell, on bring­ing Pretty Wo­man to Broad­way. “I knew it would make a great mu­si­cal. The per­fect Cin­derella story,” (giv­ing an in­ter­est­ing bite to Kit’s “Cin­der-f***in’-rella” line, which brings down the house). But I di­gress. Back in 2008, a sim­i­lar thought in­spired Adams to ap­proach Dis­ney, with whom he had a re­la­tion­ship through one of his most en­dur­ing hits, “All for Love,” cre­ated for another one of the com­pany’s films, The Three Mus­ke­teers, and the Robin Wil­liams’ vehicle Old Dogs, for which he did the song, “You’ve Been a Friend to Me.”

“I called and said, ‘Would you ever like to do this in a mu­si­cal?’ and they said, ‘We’re not mak­ing that right now,’” Adams tells me when we sit down in Toronto, a stop on his in­ter­na­tional Ul­ti­mate tour. “Fast for­ward to 2014, and one of my friends who works in Broad­way came to see my show in New York and said, ‘You have to do a Broad­way mu­si­cal.’ I said, ‘Well, I tried with Pretty Wo­man, and it didn’t [hap­pen].’ To which, he goes, ‘They’re mak­ing that right now. I’ll con­nect you to the guy.’” It turned out to be the same “guy” Adams had orig­i­nally spo­ken to, who con­nected him with PWTM’s pro­ducer Paula Wag­ner ( Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble, Mar­shall), who, in turn, con­nected Adams to Mitchell for a first meet­ing in Lon­don, which Val­lance also at­tended. “I knew Jim would be the right per­son, par­tic­u­larly lyri­cally, he would un­der­stand how to make this work.”

That led to another meet­ing with Mitchell and Wag­ner. “I told Jim, ‘We’re go­ing to go meet these peo­ple in New York, so let’s be pre­pared,’” Adams con­tin­ues. “‘Let’s present three songs. So when we walk in, whether they make it into the mu­si­cal or not, we show we were will­ing.’” At the “au­di­tion,” as Adams calls it, in Mitchell’s apart­ment, “As I walked in the door, he said to me, ‘You’ve got some big balls com­ing in here and play­ing songs for us that I’ve not heard be­fore.’ I said, ‘Hey, if you don’t like them, we don’t use them.’” Like a Hol­ly­wood cast­ing ses­sion, af­ter they pre­sented the songs, Mitchell had one thing to say. “You two need to leave so we can talk about you. Bye-bye and go,” Adams re­counts. “So Jim and I walked from 53rd down to Soho and, by the time we got there – we were sit­ting hav­ing din­ner talking about Broad­way and song­writ­ing and how if we got this – and then the phone rang. It was Wag­ner. ‘Hi, Bryan,’ she said. ‘Well, we’ve talked about you and we want to know if you want the gig,’ and I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’” Two of those three songs, “Wel­come to Hol­ly­wood,” a rol­lick­ing rock num­ber for the ensem­ble that kicks off the show, and “Long Way Home,” a stun­ning ballad sung by Ed­ward and Vi­vian, made it into the show.

There were three or four other writ­ing teams vy­ing for the cov­eted job, but Adams and Val­lance won out be­cause, as Mitchell puts it, “They write love songs, and this mu­si­cal needed love songs, rock ’n’ roll love songs.”

With that said, the mu­si­cal num­bers are in a va­ri­ety of gen­res from gospel to rap to jazz. “Over a pe­riod of two years, we wrote nearly 40 songs to get 20,” says Val­lance. In 2016, the team con­vened in Chicago, where Mitchell was do­ing Kinky Boots. “We would start each day around a ta­ble with [the late] Garry Mar­shall, Jerry Mitchell, J.F. Law­ton [who wrote the film and co-wrote the mu­si­cal’s book with Mar­shall], me and Bryan, and we would choose a song to fill a blank slot in the book. Then Bryan and I would go back to our stu­dio setup, and we’d start to write. We’d have a start and play it for them. If it was right, then ev­ery­body would be re­ally thrilled, and we would carry on.”

With it all said and done, Val­lance be­lieves they have three or four songs that could be sin­gles. Of the jump to theatre, he says, “We wrote ev­ery song to be a pop song,” some­thing Val­lance had in mind when record­ing the cast al­bum. “The songs have been de­con­structed [for chore­og­ra­phy breaks, etc.]; we’re sort of re­con­struct­ing them for it.”

Songs came from frag­ments of con­ver­sa­tion or ev­ery­day mo­ments. For “Some­thing About Her,” says Adams, it was “this epiphany I had when we were work­ing on that song, talking about what his feel­ings were about her, and I thought – a lot of times, catch phrases come to me af­ter im­me­di­ate di­a­logue – the first thing I thought was there’s some­thing about her, you know, and it’s a sim­ple idea. And it’s a thing that you say ev­ery day, ‘There’s some­thing about that guy or there’s some­thing about that show, there’s some­thing about that.’”

Adams has al­ready in­cor­po­rated PWTM tunes into his live show. The song that his Vi­vian sings in the bath­tub scene started the en­core at his Toronto con­cert. “Jim came up with it – she’s in the bath­tub go­ing, ‘Woo-woo yeah-yeah,’ and I’m think­ing of the song ti­tle, and the thought is, ‘Wow, look at me, I’m in this amaz­ing place, I could get used to this.’ So that’s the song ti­tle, ‘I Could Get Used to This.’ So it’s com­ing up with things that are ev­ery day thoughts. Let’s make a thought into a song and that’s how it works.”

And work it all beau­ti­fully does. Broad­way might just be some­thing Adams and Val­lance will have to get used to. Both de­murred when I asked about the idea of Sum­mer of ’69: The Mu­si­cal, but Adams says, “I wish I was step­ping into another one straight­away.” —Suzanne Boyd

Af­ter meet­ing in a Van­cou­ver record store in 1978, Jim Val­lance and Bryan Adams went on to write a slew of time­less chart-top­ping hits; (op­po­site) Sa­man­tha Barks as Vi­vian Ward

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