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'Pretty Woman' review: Charismatic stars, but the story hasn't aged well

In "Pretty Woman: The Musical," Samantha Barks and

In "Pretty Woman: The Musical," Samantha Barks and Andy Karl take on the screen roles made famous by Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

WHAT “Pretty Woman: The Musical”

WHERE Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St.

INFO $99-$169; 877-250-2929; prettywomanthemusical.com

BOTTOM LINE Fans of the movie may enjoy this musical but newcomers will be harder to woo.

If you expected “Pretty Woman” to have been radically overhauled for our supposedly more feminist times, think again.

The moment Vivian Ward makes her entrance on the Nederlander Theatre stage, it’s clear that “Pretty Woman: The Musical” will stick close to its source material. Hollywood’s most beloved streetwalker wears the exact same outfit she did at the beginning of the 1990 hit romantic comedy. Her fairy-tale love story with ultrarich corporate raider Edward Lewis is faithfully preserved, and most of the best lines have made the trip to Broadway as well. No wonder: The show’s book is by the movie’s director, the late Garry Marshall, and its screenwriter, J.F. Lawton.

The new stuff doesn’t stray from the template, either. The score by Bryan Adams and his longtime collaborator Jim Vallance is fine, if nondescript, 1980s-style pop-rock. Among the highlights, Vivian’s “Luckiest Girl in the World” is a rollicking, Southern-fried boogie, while Edward’s “Freedom” is exactly the kind of power ballad you’d expect from Adams.

As the leads, Andy Karl (a charming movie-to-stage expert who scored Tony nominations for “Groundhog Day” and “Rocky”) and Samantha Barks (making a confident Broadway debut) have a loose, relaxed chemistry. You are rooting for them to end up together because, well, that’s the whole point.

And yet the show never quite clicks.

Partly it’s because we could use more sass and wit. Director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell did not come up with anything as exciting as his showstoppers from “Kinky Boots. And there are unnecessary tacky touches. A joke about a cushion Vivian needs for a certain sex act is bad enough, and then it’s repeated. You’ve got to wonder if there’s a link between this tone-deafness and the creative team being entirely made up of men.

But a lot of the issues have to do with the big question hovering above the entire project: Is this the story we need right now?

Vivian, always a feisty personality with an irreverent streak, has been made even more assertive. When Edward’s sleazy lawyer (Jason Danieley) tries to grope her, for example, she belts him (Prince Charming did it on-screen).

Alas, this is undermined by the musical so often adopting the men’s point of view, whether it’s Edward, the hotel manager or the so-called “Happy Man,” who acts as the relentlessly cheerful pied piper of Hollywood Boulevard (both roles are played by Eric Anderson).

And in the end, even more than in the movie, sex work is surprisingly easy to leave behind. The role of Vivian’s best friend has been expanded so Kit (the big belter Orfeh, who is married to Karl) is now the show’s Jiminy Cricket, and both women leave the streets just like that. What happens to them after the curtain call? Now that’s something we’d like to see.

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