Hollywood power player – and Youngstown, OH native – Paula Wagner spearheaded bringing the beloved film Pretty Woman to the Broadway stage. Broadway in Cincinnati caught up with the showbiz mogul to talk about why she loves this story.
Broadway in Cincinnati: Your career started in theatre, then shifted to movie production in Hollywood, and again to producing plays on Broadway. What drew you to producing the stage musical of the iconic film Pretty Woman?
Paula Wagner: I grew up right outside of Youngstown, Ohio. My first experience in the theatre was as a young actor at the Youngstown Playhouse. From that moment on, theatre was in my blood. Later I did some summer stock in Dayton, Canton and at the Cleveland Playhouse and saw that Ohio is rich with first-rate stage productions. From Ohio, I made my way from college to Broadway to the movie business in Hollywood as an actress, an agent and a producer. I finally came back to Broadway in 2012 as a producer.
PRETTY WOMAN is one of the most beloved and internationally renowned romantic comedies of all time. It is a story of two people living in vastly different cultural and economic worlds. They connect with each other and transcend all of the obstacles to find true love. It is a classic, beautiful tale of redemption and the belief that true love will prevail.
Garry Marshall’s vision of J.F. Lawton’s original story touched the hearts of people all over the world, and it certainly touched mine. I am attracted to stories that feature strong female characters who go on a transformative journey. The character of Vivian does this in an unconventional way. I partnered with Garry and J.F. to produce the musical version of PRETTY WOMAN on Broadway, in Hamburg, London and on a tour of the U.S. and include Ohio.
BiC: Can you tell us about the team you assembled to translate this beloved story into a Broadway musical?
PW: PRETTY WOMAN has always had a natural musicality about it. The wonderful challenge was to find just the right director, and we found that in the multi-talented choreographer and director, two-time Tony winner Jerry Mitchell.
Then Garry Marshall, J.F. Lawton, Jerry Mitchell and I
, brought on the Grammy A award-winning Bryan Adams and the highly regarded, prolific Jim Vallance, as composers. Bryan and Jim were passionate about creating an original score for PRETTY WOMAN on Broadway.
Jerry Mitchell engaged some of Broadway’s greatest artists, such as David Rockwell (Scenic Designer), Gregg Barnes (Costume Designer), Will Van Dyke (Orchestrator), Kenneth Posner and Philip S. Rosenberg (Lighting Designers).
This was the perfect team to transport the audience into this romantic, yet fun and wildly entertaining theatrical adventure.
BiC: Can you name something special that each of these partners brought to the final product?
PW: J.F. brought a unique narrative style and depth of character to the book. Garry Marshall brought his warmth, positivity, humor and great humanity. Jerry Mitchell brought his particular choreographic style, directorial sense of humor, love, and unexpected yet exciting staging.
Bryan and Jim infused into the story of PRETTY WOMAN their wide range of musical knowledge, experience, and world-renowned talents to create a seamless and varied score that includes beautiful ballads
, and big upbeat dynamic numbers.
There are musical numbers that are fun and upbeat like “Welcome to Hollywood”
, as well as heartwarming beautiful ballads such as “Anywhere but Here” , which Vivian sings at the beginning of the first act.
The combination of all of these talents makes for a joyful and fun evening
, filled with music and , dancing, incorporating some of the great moments from the movie that people know and love, as well as many unexpected surprises.
BiC: What about the original film did you make sure to carry over to the Broadway production, and what new aspects did you want to explore?
PW: We incorporated many of the iconic moments that everyone knows and loves, such as the opera scene, shopping on Rodeo Dr
., the polo match, and many others. Gregg Barnes recreated, with his own vision, the costumes for Vivian, from Hollywood Boulevard to the classic red opera dress and beautiful necklace , when Vivian and Edward experience La Traviata together. This is a stunning moment in the musical in which Bryan and Jim have merged a beautiful love ballad with opera, a truly unique experience.
We have integrated the hit Roy Orbison song “Oh, Pretty Woman” into the show in a creative way, in which the entire cast participates. Many of the memorable moments and lines from the movie are brought to life on stage. Additionally, we have deepened the characters and even added a new character, the Happy Man, who is a guide playing many different roles, including Mr. Thompson, the hotel concierge.
Even though Vivian has always been an independent young woman, she is trying to find the world in which she belongs. She dictates the terms, is a good negotiator, and has kept her dignity and authenticity. From Vivian’s first song she realizes she wants to be “Anywhere but Here.” This leads her to the place where she finally sings the rousing power ballad “I Can’t Go Back.”
Edward’s character is deepened too, and Vivian’s best friend Kit realizes that she has a dream as well and decides to follow it.
Although our Vivian is still charming, delightful and filled with warmth and irrepressible enthusiasm, she now has an added awareness of her own empowerment.
PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL is set in the fairytale time of the late ’80s /early ’90s and there are some profound moments woven into this charming upbeat romantic story.
BiC: Why do you think Vivian and Edward’s story has always resonated with audiences? Do you have a favorite part of the musical?
PW: In our travels all over the world, whenever and wherever we mention that PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL is coming to the stage, it has brought a smile to people’s faces. People love magical, happily ever after love stories, particularly in the times in which we are living.
All the news of the world is instantaneously at our fingertips and we are constantly reminded about our struggles and hardships. We need uplifting redemptive stories where magic is possible and love does conquer all, and yes our Vivian rescues Edward right back!
About the Show
Fall in love all over again. One of Hollywood’s most beloved stories of all time is now coming to Cincinnati. Pretty Woman: The Musical features direction and choreography by two-time Tony Award®-winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), an original score by Grammy®-winner Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance (“Summer of ’69”, “Heaven”), and a book by the movie’s legendary director Garry Marshall and screenwriter J.F. Lawton. The Hollywood Reporter calls it “Irresistible! A romantic fantasy. A contemporary fairy tale.”