Pretty Woman: A Fun Night Out With The Girls at Leeds Grand Theatre

I’m about ten years too young for the original film ‘Pretty Woman’ to have had an impact on me when it first came out, but like most women in their 30’s, I’ve watched the film a number of times, usually with a group of girls, a few G&T’s and a big bowl of popcorn.

I enjoyed the dazzle of the fortune and idea that a man can be transformed by a spirited, beautiful woman. As I’ve grown older, the story has become less appealing, even more ridiculous, so it was with mixed expectations that I trotted off to Leeds Grand Theatre on a wet Tuesday night to watch another musical adaptation from the 90’s.

‘Pretty Woman’ was originally released in 1990 and starred heart-throb Richard Gere and vivacious Julia Roberts. Set in L.A. we see lost millionaire Edward meet a beautiful and equally as lost prostitute, Vivian. He hires her to stay with him for 6 days and accompany him to several business events whilst he finalises the brutal takeover of a family industry.

Oliver Savile as Edward Lewis with Amber Davies as Vivian Ward

Her sense of freedom, charm and honesty is new to Edward and of course he ends up falling madly in love with her as well as finding his own sense of right and wrong. In return, she obviously falls madly in love with his money and lifestyle…..sorry, I mean with him – and realises she wants to do more with her life. Amazingly, at the time of its release it was the 5th highest grossing film of all time and propelled Roberts into international stardom, as well as earning her an Oscar nomination for the first time.

In honesty, I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this production. The songs were fun, the lead cast was extremely strong and the pace was fast. My issues with story gave me a definite ‘ick’ factor at times but it was an enjoyable night out. The audience was packed with women in their 40’s and 50’s with big smiles on their faces: this was clearly a nostalgic event for many.

The lead cast was impressively strong. Oliver Savile was charismatic and handsome (a pre-requisite) as Edward Lewis, his vocals easy to listen to, even when his love songs carried on a little too long. Amber Davies was also excellent as Vivien Ward, considering she first rose to fame as the winner of ‘Love Island’. She had trained in performance at the Urdang Academy and for once her skills outranked her celebrity status. Often, famous names are given roles to draw the crowds in without quite having the skills or stamina that years of training would give you. However, no one can say that about Amber: she has a great voice, sass and quirkiness that make her a great Pretty Woman.

Ore Oduba

Another famous face you may recognise is Ore Oduba, TV presenter and winner of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. He plays about 6 roles in the shows, most notably the narrator of Hollywood Boulevard ‘Happy Man’ and hotel manager Mr Thompson. He had excellent comedic timing and fantastic control as he swapped seamlessly throughout his different roles (my favourite being the conductor!). His dancing was unsurprisingly excellent and his voice was good enough to keep the pace and energy alive.

Natalie Paris as Kit de Luca

My favourite performance of the night was from Natalie Paris who played the role of Vivien’s friend Kit de Luca. This role has been enlarged for the musical and her belting rock voice showed stunning fluidity and dexterity, her cool look giving her a more powerful, 3-dimensional character than in the film.

Josh Damer-Jennings as Alfredo and Lila Falce-Bass as Violetta with Company

It would be wrong to talk about singing voices and not mention ensemble member Lila Falce-Bass, who sang an operatic solo as the performer Vivien watched when Edward takes her to see ‘La Traviata’. This is one of my favourite scenes in the show – the comedy of mixing opera and rock, set against the undeniably stunning power and range of Lila’s operatic performance.

Ore Oduba with members of the Pretty Woman company

Surprisingly, the music and lyrics were written by non-other than Canadian superstar Bryan Adams, and you can hear his style ring out in some of the guitar solos especially. I was pleasantly impressed by the range of genres within the show, a particular favourite being ‘Don’t Forget To Dance’, the tango style allowing Ore to shine as a dancer, whilst the 5 bell boys provided some sublime close harmonies, all with comedy and pace. There are a few terrible lyrics that creep in, noticeably in the opening song: ‘look at him, he’s rich, he thinks he’s winning, he needs to learn his journey’s just beginning’. But that’s what’s expected from a show like this and it’s what most of the audience will be expecting by choosing to come and see it.

Ben Darcy as Philip Stuckey with Oliver Savile as Edward Lewis

Personally, the musical itself did make me feel uncomfortable in places. It’s a story very much of its time, and there is absolutely no way that a new musical or film with this story would be allowed to be made and be classed as a rom-com. There’s so much about the story that is inappropriate, that glamourises prostitution and that makes it seem like women are waiting for rich men to come and rescue them. Vivien sings how she can’t go back to the streets as she’s ‘seen the other side’, as if the only two options are being a prostitute or being a multimillionaire.

The sex scenes are also a little uncomfortable on stage, when you actually realise that she’s selling herself to that man whilst the production is trying to make it appear like some big romance. In all fairness, the adaptation has tried to relate more to a 21st Audience. I love how her friend Kit realises that she, too, can do better so signs up to train to become a cop. This is the kind of attitude I want to see: a woman improving her own life by herself without needing a man to do it for her. It was a very much needed addition to the story. I’m still not convinced I’d want my daughter to see it until she’s about 30. (Editor note: Maria, you do yourself a disservice. I think any daughter of yours will be grounded enough long before she’s 30 to recognise fairytales and fantasy for what they are – and enjoy them, as so many generations before her have done.)

Overall, this is a really fun night out. You’ll be very pleased that the much-suggested performance of ‘Pretty Woman’ (as sneaky sounds of the riff are played throughout) is finally rolled out at the finale. Get your girls, get some wine and have a good night out at this show whilst it’s still on.

You can book tickets here. Pretty Woman is at Leeds Grand Theatre until 25 May.

Photography by Marc Brenner.