Steve Kazee and Samantha Barks are not Richard Gere or Julia Roberts. And they’re not trying to be, as they rehearse for their starring roles as Edward and Vivian in the world premiere of the Broadway-bound musical Pretty Woman.
“Even if I wanted to play it like him, it would come off as false,” Kazee says of Gere — who starred opposite Roberts in the 1990 film — while sitting down next to Barks after a day’s rehearsal at the New 42nd Street Studios. “Somewhere there’s a person who’s longing for more. So it’s a much deeper character than I think I ever gave it credit for on film,” admits Kazee, who was last seen on Broadway in Once, for which he won a Tony Award for best leading actor in a musical. “On stage, you can’t have your performance be that subtle, so it’s a trick as an actor to find out how much you can give and how much you can’t.”
Directed and choreographed by two-time Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell, Pretty Woman will first play at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago, beginning performances March 13 before transferring to Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre in July. The show tells the story of a Los Angeles billionaire (Kazee) who falls in love with a prostitute (Barks). But in this Cinderella story, there’s a twist. “It’s not just Cinderella who needs rescuing,” Barks says. Kazee adds: “It’s about [the prince] being saved as well. [Vivian and Edward] are both people in need of something that they don’t have in their lives.”
This show marks Barks’s Broadway debut. Most famous for her role as Eponine in the film adaptation of Les Misérables and born the same year Pretty Woman the movie came out, Barks brought her thigh-high boots to her audition. “They’re my best ‘most Julia Roberts’ boots and they must have been my lucky charm,” she jokes. But underneath the skimpy costume (it’s unknown whether she’ll wear a Carol Channing–looking blonde bob wig as well), Vivian will be more “empowered,” Barks reveals.
Like Kazee, the 28-year-old is elated to make Roberts’s character into a role that translates on stage but finds it to be the most difficult part of the rehearsal process so far. “Finding something that is my own, and marrying the two worlds of this iconic film with this new musical, that’s an exciting challenge.”
Fans of the film will be thrilled to know that many of its most famous moments will be in the musical, although Kazee and Barks are hesitant to give too much away.
Since the cast is still learning the show, there are plenty of kinks to work out. The focus two weeks into rehearsals is the big production numbers. Smaller scenes were set during an earlier workshop of Pretty Woman. “Jerry’s now starting to add bells and whistles to things,” Kazee describes of Mitchell’s process. “He is a person who has to see it happen to know it’s wrong. He doesn’t come in with a paper that says, ‘OK, now you do this, and you do this, and then you do that.’ He’s like, ‘All right, let’s try it like this.’ Then two seconds later he’ll be like, ‘You know what? Let’s get rid of that and do something different.’”
One of Kazee’s and Barks’s favorite numbers so far is the show’s “11 o’clock number” called “Long Way Home,” with Barks noting, “We have a really nice moment together during that number.” Of the two dozen new songs written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, Kazee notes of the score: “The music in a lot of ways is pop-contemporary, but also shines a light on traditional musical theater.”
When asked if they’d like to see Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in the audience one day, Kazee says he would love it if they would come. Barks chimes in: “How nerve-racking as well. I’d be terrified, but also very excited.”