“It’s so hard to watch it because it’s such a beautiful, iconic performance,” Barks, who plays Vivian Ward, the hooker with a heart of gold, told Variety on Thursday at the musical’s opening night. “You can’t do your own thing for a minute and breathe. We’re lucky we have so many songs to sing, which adds new layers to the character.”
Though Roberts didn’t attend opening night at the Nederlander Theatre, she came to a performance while the show was running previews. The part of Vivian Ward launched Roberts into superstardom, so naturally, Barks said it was “petrifying” performing for her.
“Luckily, I didn’t know she was in the audience,” Barks recalled. “They made a speech [after the performance] like, ‘Oh, Julia Roberts is in the audience.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean Julia Roberts is in the audience?!’ I’m so grateful they kept it a secret from me.”
The cast all agreed Roberts couldn’t have been more gracious when she came backstage after the show.
“She just hugged me for a minute and we didn’t let go,” Barks said. “She was so supportive and excited by what we were doing. I couldn’t ask for more. It was a dream.”
Orfeh portrays Vivian’s sassy roommate Kit De Luca, who shows Vivian the tricks of the trade. Roberts told Orfeh that seeing the show made her miss Laura San Giacomo, the actress who plays Kit in the movie.
“She really had a connection to everyone. It wasn’t just like, ‘Hey, you were great,’” Orfeh said. “She really took the time to give each of us Julia Roberts face time. We all died.”
As the wealthy and charming businessman Edward Lewis, Andy Karl said Roberts told him he had the hardest part in the show.
“She knows my journey in the show is a tough one,” Karl said. “Apparently Richard Gere complained every day, just like, ‘I’m a walking suit.’”
Director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, whose many Broadway credits include “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” “Kinky Boots,” “Hairspray,” and “Catch Me If You Can,” said he knew audiences would have higher expectations for the musical version of “Pretty Woman,” given its nearly 30-year legacy.
One line he knew had to be in the show? When Vivian returns a store on Rodeo Drive with an arm full of shopping bags and tells the saleswomen who wouldn’t let her shop there the day before, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.“
“That whole idea of a girl being dissed and then being able to go back and conquer them,” Mitchell said. “What I looked for was the close-up afterwards. How do we turn that into a musical number? That’s really what made it special.”
The scene Orfeh fought to keep in the show was a little more colorful.
“I thought it was really important that Cinder-f—ing-ella was there and not watered down or deleted. There was a time that wasn’t going to be in the musical,” she revealed, referring to a scene where Vivian asks Kit when a rags-to-riches story actually works out.
Eventually, she got the creative team on board.
“You don’t want to curse, but I said, let me try it. And it worked,” Orfeh said. “They were like, ‘Alright fine, we’re putting it in.’”
There was at least one iconic moment that they intentionally chose to leave out. Though the stage adaptation is, of course, a musical, the creative team behind the show didn’t include Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” the track that the movie was named after.
“I wanted an original score. [The movie] score wasn’t written for anyone to sing,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t written for a character to sing. It was a mood-setting song. Read the lyrics — you’re not really sure who would say that today, and especially to a woman, today.”