Pretty Woman is pretty fantastic

Posted 20th March 2024

Following record-breaking runs on Broadway and in the West End, as well as on a US tour and in cities around the world, Pretty Woman is now on the road in the UK – and will be at Milton Keynes Theatre this March.

According to his wife Barbara and daughter Kathleen, 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 some day.

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

Kathleen agreed: “As well as being a director my dad was a writer, which he saw as a lonely profession. He always said, ‘Once you finish writing something you just have to bask in it because you’re going to be back in the room writing again soon’. So he would be just basking in the excitement that the show is doing so well.”

Bronx-born Garry was a Hollywood legend who studied journalism and in the late 1950s 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.

(L to R) Barbara Marshall, Lori Marshall, Scott Marshall, Kathleen Marshall and Garry Marshall copy

Garry had already directed movies including The Flamingo Kid and Beaches before he had the biggest hit of his career with Pretty Woman.
Set in the late-80s and released in 1990, it was conceived as a much darker story, with LA streetwise sex worker Vivian (famously played by 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 fairy tale 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 he made her into this strong woman.”

Garry was a canny choice to direct the movie, given his track record with uplifting women’s stories. “And it’s sort of my dad’s story too,” his daughter points out, “because he came from the Bronx and he went to Northwestern University, where everybody was sort of a little fancier. Then he came to Hollywood and he was constantly his own fish out of water.”

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.

“I think everybody remembers that movie as a happy moment or it helped them with something in their life,” Barbara smiled, “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. There’s a lot there in the storytelling that’s really beautiful and romantic and uplifting, and I think everyone can connect to that.”

Pretty Woman: The Musical will play at Milton Keynes Theatre, from Tuesday, March 19 – Saturday, March 30.
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