Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Converting a Film to a Musical

by Paula Gail Benson

Logo from the National Tour Company

Ellie Baker plays Vivian
[NOTE: the logo and photos used in this post are from the National Tour website.]

When the movie Pretty Woman came out in 1990, I remember being charmed by it and wondering why. I assumed it was a variety of elements. The casting of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere as Vivian and Edward, prostitute and businessman who find and save each other was considered so successful it led to the actors being reunited later in different roles in Runaway Bride. The delightful supporting performances included those by Hector Elizondo as the straightlaced hotel manager, Ralph Bellamy as the owner of a troubled company Richard Gere’s character is about to take over, Laura San Giacomo as Julia Robert’s plucky, streetwise roommate, Jason Alexander as Richard Gere’s money obsessed lawyer, and Elinor Donahue as a cooperative salesclerk. Finally, Garry Marshall’s directorial skill proved that a prostitute’s redemption could be the basis of a contemporary Cinderella story (with a little help from opera’s La Traviata, which dealt with a similar theme, only it ended sadly and Pretty Woman was a romcom).

Chase Wolfe plays Edward

The movie definitely was memorable. The recent musical with music and lyrics by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance and book by Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton (who was the author of the screenplay for the movie) sought to recreate the magic onstage. The national touring company came to Columbia, S.C., and I had a chance to see the transformation.

Definite changes took place in the musical’s supporting structure.  The musical only mentions Elinor Donahue’s character and dispenses completely with Ralph Bellamy’s.

A minor movie character becomes pivotal in the musical. The “Happy Man” seen in the beginning and end, trying to sell tour guides for stars’ homes, calls out, “What’s your dream?” Believing in and preserving one’s dream becomes the theme, with the Happy Man proving, in various guises, that becoming what one aspires to be is the ultimate goal.

Adam Du Plessis plays Happy Man

What happens in the musical, which lends a magical quality to the story, is that the Happy Man transforms into the hotel manager and later into a band leader. He becomes the embodiment of transformation being not only achievable, but desirable. In particular, the actor playing the role in the national tour, Adam Du Plessis, nearly stole the show with his accomplished characterizations and excellent dancing skills.

A scene from the movie where the hotel manager helps Vivian (the Julia Robert’s part) navigate a complicated dinner place setting becomes a lesson concerning how to dance in dignified society. This difference also allows the musical to use a hotel bellman (played in the national tour by Joshua Kring) as a more significant character, helping with the dancing and with making deliveries to the penthouse.

Joshua Kring plays Gulio, the bellhop

The musical preserves from the movie several romantic images of Vivian and Edward—on a couch, in bed, and on a piano. Also, Vivian wears the elegant red gown to the opera and almost gets her fingers caught when Edward snaps closed the box with the borrowed necklace.

Ellie Baker as Vivian and Chase Wolfe as Edward make an engaging couple. I was delighted to read that Chase Wolfe grew up in Spartanburg, S.C., and attended Wofford College. (He majored in Chemistry and Chinese and worked in the home perfume industry before pursuing acting and entertaining fulltime). Rae Davenport shone brilliantly as Kit De Luca, Vivian’s roommate. In fact, the whole cast was outstanding.

They saved the actual playing of “Pretty Woman” until the very end and encouraged the audience (now standing and applauding) to join in with the singing. The whole evening was terrific. I highly recommend that you see it if it comes to your community or nearby.

Rae Davenport plays Kit De Luca

In some ways, making Pretty Woman into a musical expanded the story and in other ways contracted it. Have you ever analyzed a movie/book to musical transformation?


  1. I've never analyzed a movie to music transition, but I have thought about books and movies. I can't recall reading a book after seeing a movie, so it's always books first. The charaters rarely look as I picutred them. Movies have to leave so much out, the story is rarely as textured -- but the setting is (naturally) much more visual. I almost always prefer the book.

    PS Just thought of a movie I saw before reading the book: Dr. Zhivago. Epic movie with an intermission directed by David Lean; book by Boris Pasternak.

  2. Sounds like a great show!

  3. Interesting! South Pacific, Michner's book, musical, movie.

  4. I find I tend to prefer the original (book to movie or movie to book) unless the adaptation is so skillful it seems like a new presentation of a familiar story, not an imitation or a knock-off. Then I enjoy both.

  5. Great description of the shift from movie to stage musical, Paula.

    The only time I've preferred a movie to the books is Jaws. The book is good but the movie bites right to the meat of the story.

  6. Jim, Anonymous, Margaret, and Kathleen, thank you for stopping by. I appreciate your comments.

    Molly, I love your description of Jaws:"movie bites right to the meat." Well said!