The fairy-tale story of Pretty Woman was brought to life as a musical by openly gay theater director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell in 2018. He debuted the original production of Pretty Woman: The Musical premiered in Chicago at that time and has now revamped the show with a brief stop on tour in the Windy City in 2021.
The stage show is based on the hit 1990 film Pretty Woman that starred Richard Gere as the wealthy Edward Lewis and Julia Roberts as a prostitute named Vivian Ward. The story followed their romance together onscreen and made Roberts a household name in the process. The musical has many of the same elements that made the movie such a gem.
Out performer Michael Dalke is part of the touring ensemble and understudies several roles as the character Happy Man. Past stage roles for Dalke have included playing the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, Orin in Little Shop of Horrors and Curly in Oklahoma! Dalke talked by phone while out on the road touring.
Windy City Times: Where in the world are you, Michael?
Michael Dalke: We are in Buffalo. We are driving to Rochester [New York] after that, and then Chicago.
WCT: I saw your history in Oklahoma and I was born in Oklahoma City.
MD: I was born in Oklahoma City, too! I grew up in Norman and I went to school in Edmond.
I am staying on this tour until August because our last two cities are in Oklahoma, so I can stomp the boards that I stomped in college!
WCT: How did you become involved with Pretty Woman: The Musical?
MD: I moved to New York right after college and then moved to LA for nine years doing camera work, then moved back to New York five years ago to focus on theater. This role came right after Jerry Mitchell saw my tape. I had seen him at Fire Island just passing by his house.
WCT: Were you in his bushes stalking him?
MD: [Laughs] No; he opened his door looking for his cat and I was with my friends walking by. We helped him look for the cat and, later, my friends told me who he was. Two weeks after that, I auditioned and got the role. It was pretty crazy!
WCT: Who are you playing in Pretty Woman: The Musical?
MD: I am covering the Happy Man role. It is a small part in the movie but is expanded for the musical. Basically, he is a narrator or story weaver of the show. He describes himself as, "Hollywood Boulevard's Fairy Godfather." He is similar to Billy Porter in the latest Cinderella movie. Mr. Thompson was part of that in the movie version of Pretty Woman and guided her. It is part of five different characters, such as the conductor in the opera and Mr. Thompson.
WCT: Do you run around playing all these parts?
MD: Yes, I run around like crazy and it has been a lot to learn. I am always in the ensemble and covering the Happy Man role at times.
WCT: Samantha Barks, who played the Julia Roberts part, told me she would be different than Julia Roberts onstage but was in fact just like Julia after I saw it. Are you able to distance yourself from the movie version of Mr. Thompson?
MD: Yes, Jerry Mitchell has made the choreography and lines different from that. He invents it new every time in all the various productions. He did that for the London and German productions as well. Olivia Valli, who plays the Vivian Ward part in this, is like Fanny Brice and is completely different than Julia Roberts. She is funny, kooky and silly. It is charming and fun!
WCT: Why do you think gay audiences will like Pretty Woman: The Musical when it is a straight love story?
MD: First of all, Jerry Mitchell is in charge of it, so there are fabulous dresses and makeup. There's a song called "Rodeo Drive" and all of the female-identifying members of the cast come out wearing Chanel studded bras. There is a gorgeous Pucci dress from the '90s. The costume designer, Gregg Barnes, had a lot of fun doing all of the Rodeo Drive outfits.
Vivian is a strong woman that I always identified with as a gay man growing up. Vivian is constantly who she is from the start and doesn't change no matter what happens. There's a line where she says to the Edward character," I know who I am. I was just a little confused on who you were." I love that line because it is an empowering statement.
Her character changes the world around her but doesn't change herself. That is inspiring to me as a gay man because coming out at age 14 in Oklahoma was not easy. The world was constantly telling me I should be something other than what I was at the time.
WCT: Did you watch The Movies That Made Us documentary on Netflix about Pretty Woman?
MD: I watched it on a plane just a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it. Gary Marshall's wife and daughter have been with us since we started the rehearsal process. Barbara Marshall, as we saw in The Movies That Made Us, came up with the kissing is too intimate idea.
The Pretty Woman movie has had such an impact on many of the people that come to see the musical. I didn't know so many people in the audience would connect with it. That is something that Jerry told us about, especially the "Pretty Woman" song at the curtain call. Everyone sings and claps along.
WCT: The show definitely has a built-in fanbase.
MD: It does and doesn't disappoint. It gives you all the things from the movie that you want to see, like her in the red dress going to the opera and the snapping box. Adam Pascal and Olivia Valli do it in a unique way that is all their own. I am not just saying that. I got to sit out and watch it!
We serve the audience so much. There are amazing dancers in the show and the opera singer is just incredible. There are many unexpected things to see in the musical Pretty Woman.
WCT: Has Julia Roberts seen the musical version yet?
MD: She went to the premiere in New York on Broadway. She hasn't seen the tour yet or we would have heard about it. Maybe when we get to LA!
WCT: When does Runaway Bride: The Musical come out?
MD: [laughs] I'm not sure, but as long as I get to play the Runaway Bride, I am here for it!
Pretty Woman: The Musical will run at the CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St. on Dec. 14-19. Book tickets at BroadwayInChicago.com before the show moves on.