“Pretty Woman” morality story pits prostitution v predatory capitalism

By Lucy Komisar

Here‘s a Cinderella story which would not quite make it today. Because it‘s about a prostitute who reforms her John. It was a movie hit 20 years ago, but that was an epoch away. The book is by Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton, the music and lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, based on the film by Lawton.

So, suspend belief and politics. A story for our times about a billionaire Edward Lewis (Andy Karl) without morals, who would destroy a shipbuilding company and fire its workers, but learns something from a hooker.

Andy Karl as Edward Lewis, Samantha Barks as Vivian Ward, photo Matthew Murphy.

I would reject the story on the anti-feminist face of it, though turns out she is smarter than he is. But I liked the show.

This pretty immoral guy who has just broken up with a girlfriend, meets Vivian Ward (Samantha Barks) on Hollywood Blvd. Notice the backdrop about X-rated gifts and toys. She got on the street because she grew up poor in the mid-south and made bad choices in marriage. No options, not even a HS diploma. But a lot of heart and soul.

Andy Karl as Edward Lewis dancing with Samantha Barks as Vivian Ward, photo Matthew Murphy.

He with lots of bucks makes a deal for $3G for six days of her services, ie sleeping with him. He puts her in his Beverly Wilshire suite. She’s his toy. She is so poor that she grabs a bunch of complimentary apples. Barks plays her as a charmer, Karl’s character is tight. Jerry Mitchell directs a play with words about exploitation, but not the dark mood.

Lewis says, “We don‘t build anything,” which describes what US financial companies do, or don‘t do. His business is buying distressed companies. He‘s part of the corrupt capitalist system. So, fine that he‘s making a deal with a distressed person. He will also take over shipbuilding company that lost a Navy contract but has valuable property he can sell off. And destroy the lives of the workers.

Samantha Barks as Vivian Ward shopping on Rodeo Drive, photo Matthew Murphy.

There‘s some delicious snobbery when he sends Vivian to get better clothes for a business event where she will be his arm candy. The Rodeo Drive sales people dismiss her. And even more of that at the charity polo event when people declare, “who wouldn‘t want to be us?”

Thompson (Eric Anderson) a hotel manager, is a delight in his dancing lesson, showing her how to deal with a red magic night. How did she get to that? “We were poor.” I love the rich guy‘s line, “It was a business doing pleasure with you.” What is sleazier, prostitution or capitalism?

Samantha Barks as Vivian Ward and Andy Karl as Edward Lewis, at the opera, photo Matthew Murphy.

Note a great Traviata opera scene with stunning Allison Blackwell singing Violetta. There’s also some nice country /pop /rock. The singing and dancing were fine all around, but I was focused on the story.

I’m conflicted about a show that in a very long tradition exploits the dark thrill of a sexy prostitute. In this case she is clearly the better person, in competition with the money that gives him power. I’m not sure who really wins.

Pretty Woman.” Music & lyrics by Bryan Adams & Jim Vallance; book by Garry Marshall & J.F. Lawton. Directed & choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st St, New York City. 877-250-2929. Opened Aug. 16, 2018. 2:30 hrs.

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