No doubt there’s a politically correct opinion of “Pretty Woman,” Garry Marshall’s stupendously popular 1990 movie romcom. I wouldn’t know: I can’t figure out whether Degrading to Women takes intersectional precedence over Sex Work Is Good. Fortunately, to lift a line from my worthy colleagues in the judicial branch, we need not reach this issue in order to render judgment on the new musical version of Mr. Marshall’s film. Not that “Pretty Woman” is terrible—it’s just mediocre, albeit to a mind-boggling degree. The only noteworthy thing about “Pretty Woman,” in fact, is the incalculably wide gap between the time, money and talent that went into moving it from screen to stage and the comatose tedium of the results currently on view at the Nederlander Theatre.
Of course you already know the well-worn plot of “Pretty Woman,” a big-bucks update of “Cinderella” in which an obscenely rich businessman (Andy Karl) hires a trashy but lovable Hollywood hooker (Samantha Barks) to be his round-the-clock escort for a hectic week of deal-making, at the end of which they fly off into the sunset in his private jet and live wealthily ever after. Since this is a safety-first commodity musical whose sole purpose is to extract cash from middle-aged fans of the film by reminding them of how much they liked it once upon a time, Mr. Marshall and J.F. Lawton, who wrote the screenplay, stuck to their script with immovable rigidity. The only thing new (so to speak) is the pop-rock score by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, an exercise in applied cliché coinage whose quality (such as it is) is epitomized in this couplet: “It’s true I sold my body / But I never sold my soul.” Not only are the 16 songs banal, but they’re untheatrical: Virtually all of them are here’s-how-I’m-feeling-right-this-second power ballads that stop the action of the show dead instead of pushing it forward to the final curtain.
Ms. Barks, who has evidently been hired to impersonate Julia Roberts, does so with impressive accuracy and no trace of originality. Mr. Karl, who lit up the stage two seasons ago in “Groundhog Day,” is an immensely likable performer who has no notion of how to portray an emotionally stunted squillionaire who is liberated by love. This is a near-fatal problem, for Richard Gere played the part so convincingly on screen that it was just about possible to believe in the emotional truth of “Pretty Woman.” Talented though he is, Mr. Karl can’t do that, or anything like it.
Jerry Mitchell, the director and choreographer, and David Rockwell, the scenic designer, have rummaged through their duffel bags of stage trickery in an attempt to put the brightest possible shine on this dull clunker, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if their combined efforts pay off. It is, after all, the kind of show that was made to snag the tourist trade, one in which you know exactly what you’re getting going in. Don’t be fooled by the fancy packaging, though: Rarely in the history of Broadway has a bigger, staler nothingburger been served up than “Pretty Woman.”
Any other week, “Gettin’ the Band Back Together” would have locked up Broadway’s booby prize, but it looks positively adequate by comparison with “Pretty Woman.” A spoofy little musical about a 40-year-old Manhattan stockbroker (Mitchell Jarvis) who loses his job, returns to deepest New Jersey, moves back in with his sexy mom (Marilu Henner) and decides to restart Juggernaut, his high-school garage band, “Gettin’ the Band Back Together” was made for summer theaters. What it’s doing on Broadway is hard to figure, but the members of the cast of “Gettin’ the Band Back Together” are so amiable that it’s not too unpleasant—up to a point—to spend an evening watching them tell corny jokes and sing
lame but innocuous songs.
John Rando, the director, is a master of stage comedy, and it’s instructive to watch as he squeezes every drop of humorous potential out of this surprise-free show, which does contain one genuinely funny song, a number officially known as “Bart’s Confession” whose title ought by all rights to be “I Slept With Your Mom.” (Don’t ask. Really. Trust me on this.) Derek McLane’s comic-book sets are as charming as the cast. While I certainly don’t recommend that you spend your own money on “Gettin’ the Band Back Together,” it won’t kill you should you be forced to see it on somebody else’s dime.
—Mr. Teachout, the Journal’s drama critic, is the author, most recently, of “Billy and Me.” Write to him at email@example.com.