Yesterday, Visitors to the Brno City Theatre experienced the Czech premiere of the Broadway musical hit Pretty Woman. Directed by Stanislav Moša, this theatrical adaptation of the famous blockbuster highlighted the strengths of the movie. Until the break, the viewer is mostly laughing royally and having fun in this tale of a modern Cinderella, and then in the second half the impressiveness and lyricism of the whole title is especially pronounced.
No need to introduce the 1990 film and box office blockbuster starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Indeed, the audience of the Brno musical production will remember this iconic celluloid story about a prostitute who found happiness and love with a billionaire more than once thanks to the replicas of some of the dresses not only of the main heroine. Inspired by the stage play Pygmalion, in which a rich man takes a poor woman off the street and moulds her into a lady (in the same breath, we’re also talking about the musical theatre hit My Fair Lady), the film had a magical early 1990s atmosphere that the theatre adaptation also tries to preserve: in the music, costumes and overall period feel.
Just for the record, and as an initial plus of the Brno production, it should be mentioned that the world premiere of Pretty Woman: The Musical opened at the Oriental Theater in Chicago in March 2018 and ran for five weeks until it transferred to Broadway on 15 April. In addition to the American production versions, this musical appeared in Hamburg in September 2019 and in London in February 2020. The official West End premiere took place in March 2020, and due to COVID restrictions, the marketing of the title had to stop. The Brno City Theatre has once again lived up to its reputation as an agile musical arena where the audience meets contemporary musical trends and novelties – it rehearsed the production last September and for the above-mentioned pandemic reasons it could only put it in front of an audience now.
So what is Pretty Woman by Brno like? Director of the Brno production and CEO of the Brno City Theatre Stanislav Moša who had the opportunity to see the title by Garry Marshall, Jonathan Frederick Lawton, Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance as early as its Chicago period, has prepared a brisk three-hour production in which the audience alternately moves from laughter to tears. Here it is impossible to count on surprising the audience, which has known the whole love story and many scenes from it for three decades. In this case, the viewer needs to be struck by the quality of the staging: the bravura music played and sung and the superb musical acting. And the 1990 retro-style Brno production has all this.
There is little to fault with the musical staging by Dan Kalousek, who also conducted the premiere. All of the songs have a 90s sound and Brian Adams’ musical delivery is unobtrusive and very listenable and accessible. The predominant genres here are a combination of pop and rock. And the viewer may be pleasantly surprised that the musical positions of the production also briefly veer towards jazz and classical opera, and at one point these seemingly disparate genres even interpenetrate. Perhaps it can be revealed that the central melody from the film is not heard in the story itself, only in the middle of the performance the audience catches a hint of it. But the viewer will not miss Pretty Woman and the whole theme is heard during the curtain call, as the authors prescribed.
‘Welcome to Hollywood’ is heard at the beginning and end of the piece, perhaps to make the viewer realise that anything is possible in this dream factory. And this is where the story takes the audience. Set designer Christoph Weyers had to deal with the requirement for frequent changes of scenery, and so the Beverly Wilshire's entrance foyer and its top suites are often represented only by cartoonish descending sets. The set design is functional, however, and the viewer will appreciate the joke in the entrance scene from the Hollywood street, such as the poster for the film Miles from Home, starring Richard Gere, whose name also appears in the ad.
Most of the roles are alternates, with Světlana Janotová and Petr Štěpán featuring as part of the first opening night’s cast. It is gratifying that they do not imitate their more famous American film counterparts in any way. Janotová can play out a joke, even as a stoned prostitute she does not cross the boundaries of taste and her singing solos with prolonged ends are a treat for the ears. In the production, she has carefully balanced the position of a sassy girl from the street and a sexual servant into the form of a graceful swan who has found her pride, soul, worth and, eventually, a groom. The groom is played sovereignly by Petr Štěpán, whose performance can be appreciated for not only presenting a bon vivant absorbed in mammon, but also for his transformation into a decent fellow who realizes the meaning and value of love without a sugary aftertaste.
As I have already said, I was pleasantly surprised by the well-played shades of comedy and humour in this sweet lemonade. In supporting roles, Kristýna Daňhelová, Robert Jícha and Daniel Rymeš really shone in this respect. This trio (who at times are hot on the heels of the leads) bring excellent humour to the stage in their roles. Rymeš’ dance number with Jícha evokes justified volleys of laughter; the former in the role of the hotel busboy works perfectly with gestures, mime and complex dance expression. Daňhelová in the role of the harlot Kit wins the audience with her extraordinary singing with impressively constructed and interpreted feeling positions. She manages to make a joke even in a small replica and to throw it, as if unwittingly, to an appreciative audience.
Add the fully played out choral figures and the proficient dancing and singing company to these individual performances, and in sum you have a successful musical and lyrical comedy that offers the audience everything they come to musicals for. Brno’s Pretty Woman was simply a success even with a one-year hiatus and the Lidická ulice Street’s theatre has a grateful and probably long sought-after, cheerful as well as touching musical hit.
Brno City Theatre
Garry Marshall, Jonathan Frederick Lawton, Bryan Adams, Jim Vallance
Director and adaptations: Stanislav Moša
Translation: Zdeněk Bartoš
Musical production & conductors: Dan Kalousek, Josef Javora
Piano transcription: Zdeněk Bartoš
Adaptation of the musical arrangement: Daniel Kyzlink
Set design: Christoph Weyers
Costumes: Andrea Kučerová, Adéla Kučerová
Choreography: Michal Matěj
Chorusmaster: Dan Kalousek
Répétiteurs: Monika Jakubíčková, Jaroslava Michalíková
Lighting director: David Kachlíř
Sound director: Michal Hula
Sound supervisors: Jiří Topol Novotný, Petr Gazdík
Dramaturgy: Miroslav Ondra
First premiered on 11 September 2021 at the Hudební scéna (Musical Stage) of the Brno City Theatre