Bryan Adams talks Broadway-bound 'Pretty Woman' before Chicago opening

 
 
Updated 3/14/2018 12:11 PM
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  • Samantha Barks and Steve Kazee star in the world premiere of "Pretty Woman: The Musical" at Chicago's Oriental Theatre.

    Samantha Barks and Steve Kazee star in the world premiere of "Pretty Woman: The Musical" at Chicago's Oriental Theatre. Courtesy of Andrew Eccles

  • Samantha Barks and Steve Kazee rehearse for Chicago's pre-Broadway premiere of "Pretty Woman: The Musical," with an original score by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.

    Samantha Barks and Steve Kazee rehearse for Chicago's pre-Broadway premiere of "Pretty Woman: The Musical," with an original score by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. Courtesy of "Pretty Woman: The Musical" in rehearsal

An offhand comment years ago by a West End actress he was dating led rock singer/songwriter Bryan Adams to where he is today: on the eve of the pre-Broadway premiere of "Pretty Woman: The Musical" and marking his entree into musical theater.

Adams and longtime songwriting partner Jim Vallance composed an original score for the show -- adapted from the 1990 film starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. It begins previews Tuesday, March 13, at Chicago's Oriental Theatre.

Adams started by calling his agent to see if anyone planned to adapt the film to the stage. "The response was, we're not making 'Pretty Woman: The Musical,'" said the singer/guitarist.

Songwriter Jim Vallance, left, and rocker Bryan Adams wrote the score for "Pretty Woman: The Musical," which premieres this week at Chicago's Oriental Theatre.
Songwriter Jim Vallance, left, and rocker Bryan Adams wrote the score for "Pretty Woman: The Musical," which premieres this week at Chicago's Oriental Theatre. - Courtesy of Bryan Adams

That was in 2009. But by 2013, the film's famed director Garry Marshall and screenwriter J.F. Lawton had begun work on a stage transfer.

The movie, about a prostitute who charms the wealthy businessman who hires her, was a huge hit for Marshall.

"He loved Broadway and thought the movie had a musical quality," said Kathleen Marshall of her father, who died in 2016. "He had more to say."

So Garry Marshall and Lawton teamed up with producer and former studio head Paula Wagner. The trio brought in Adams and Vallance to write the lyrics and compose the music and Tony Award-winner Jerry Mitchell to direct and choreograph.

Mitchell knew he had to address certain film elements, like the close up. And he knew he had theatrical tools to do so. But it was up to Adams and Vallance to provide the crucial component.

"The most important tool is the score," said the director who was working on "Pretty Woman: The Musical" in Chicago in 2016, while he was rehearsing the musical "Gotta Dance" (later retitled "Half Time").

At night after "Half Time" rehearsals ended, he'd discuss the score with Adams and Vallance, adding his two-cents about the songs and what they needed to propel the story. By the next morning, the duo had produced a new tune. As Vallance explains, nothing sparks the creative juices like a looming deadline.

Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell confers with Samantha Barks during a rehearsal for "Pretty Woman: The Musical."
Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell confers with Samantha Barks during a rehearsal for "Pretty Woman: The Musical." - Courtesy of "Pretty Woman: The Musical" in rehearsal

That collaboration sparked mutual admiration.

"The past two years have been about making Jerry happy," said Vallance. "If he's thrilled, we're thrilled."

Since rehearsals began in January, the show has changed 12 times, joked Mitchell, who doesn't hesitate to trim -- entire production numbers even -- if it improves the show.

"More isn't necessarily better," he said. "Sometimes more is more."

Of the 35 songs Vallance and Adams composed, 23 made the final cut. One that didn't, "Please Stay," will be on Adams' next album.

From conversations with Marshall, Adams knew he had to incorporate humor into the score.

"Without humor it wouldn't have been a Garry Marshall story," he said.

The score is something special, said Tony Award-winner Steve Kazee ("Once"), who plays Edward opposite Samantha Barks' Vivian.

"It's not a rock score," Kazee said. "It's going to be a theatrical musical piece ... Some songs feel more like traditional Broadway than pop-rock Broadway."

Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell confers with Samantha Barks during a rehearsal for "Pretty Woman: The Musical."
Director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell confers with Samantha Barks during a rehearsal for "Pretty Woman: The Musical." - Courtesy of "Pretty Woman: The Musical" in rehearsal

"The music in this show will surprise people," he said.

Adams and Vallance hope theatergoers will leave the theater smiling and humming the tunes. That would be enough to confirm the foray into musical theater was the right decision.

"I'm 65. I'm looking for new challenges," Vallance said.

"I'm happy to hear that," quipped Adams, who, like his composing partner, refuses to rest on his laurels.

"I never think about what I did," said Adams, whose 1984 album "Reckless" sold 12 million copies worldwide and spawned six hit singles. "I think about what I'm about to do."

• • •

"Pretty Woman: The Musical"

When: Previews begin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 13. The show opens March 28 and runs through April 15

Where: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com

Tickets: $33-$110

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