Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance have written so many pop songs together since 1979, as the idiom goes, they could do it with their eyes closed. But three years ago, the pair took on a coveted project that neither anticipated would be such an enormous learning experience, and a hell of a lot of work: writing the score for a Broadway show, Pretty Woman: The Musical.
“I don’t think either Bryan or I quite understood what we were signing up for,” admits Vallance. “We haven’t taken on other projects, and we’ve done very little outside writing, away from Pretty Woman. It’s just been all-encompassing for the last couple of years.”
The musical is based on the 1990 blockbuster film Pretty Woman, starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, written by J.F. Lawton, and directed by the late Garry Marshall, who was a key part of the Broadway show’s development until his death in 2016. It’s the street corner-to-penthouse story of bright, feisty prostitute Vivian Ward (played by Samantha Barks) and wealthy ambitious businessman Edward Lewis (Andy Karl), adapted closely for the stage by Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell.
“It was all about creating the best songs we could.” – Bryan Adams
After out-of-town previews for five weeks in Chicago earlier this year, the Broadway production officially opened in August at the Nederlander Theatre, to glowing reviews. The companion cast recording — which Adams and Vallance produced in just two weeks, after the new male lead role was cast and songs finalized — is out now in digital and physical formats.
It was director Mitchell who had the final say. He told Adams and Vallance not to be too “on the nose” — for example, “if an actor’s walking down the stairs while he’s singing, you don’t want him to sing, “Here I am, walking down the stairs,” explains Vallance. He also prevented them from being too metaphorical, or have any meaningless words that simply sounded good. “We thought we could sneak something past Jerry, but he catches everything,” Vallance laughs.
The songwriters willingly accepted the direction as students of this genre, even though they’re not used to that for Adams’ own albums. No one tells the singer of such enduring global hits as “Cuts Like A Knife,” “Run To You,” “Summer of ‘69” and “Straight From The Heart,” with 75 million albums sold, to go back to the drawing board, or change this and that. “With the musical, every song, every line of lyric, every word, has to serve the story,” says Vallance. “The director was very particular about that.”
“We would just listen to what he had to say, and go back and start doing some sketching,” says Adams. “People that have a lot of experience writing musicals, they understand the format, the buttons that have to be pressed throughout the course of a musical. We didn’t know that, so it was a bit of a learning curve. But I don’t know that there was a hard or fast rule on how to create this. It was all about creating the best songs we could.”
But Vallance, far more detailed and forthcoming than Adams when discussing the writing process for a musical, in a separate interview, says that there are some rules. He explains what he learned from the director:
“There’s some real critical points… We discovered this as we went along. Again, the director, the producer, the book writer were all very helpful, but also very particular at making sure that we check those boxes and hit those points,” Vallance begins.
“Obviously, the opening number is a big deal. It has to draw the audience in, and that lyric went through two or three re-writes over a two- or three-year period. The end result wasn’t quite where we started out, but the director wanted the character, who’s called Happy Man, to very obviously be a narrator. He’s literally in the opening number, over three verses, describing Vivian, Edward, and where they’ve come from, where they’re going. He even says in the lyric, ‘Pay attention, I’m going to be your guide for the whole evening.’ That’s where the lyric ended up, but it didn’t start out that way. The opening number is critical.
“The closing number to Act I is another place where you have to leave the audience wanting more, because there’s an intermission. Second song in Act I is what in Broadway is traditionally called the ‘I want’ song. This is something we didn’t know. Virtually every musical ever written has an ‘I want’ song. In My Fair Lady, it’s ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.’ The ‘I want’ song is where the main character tells the audience, literally, what they want, what they hope to achieve over the course of the next two-and-a-half hours, and over the course of the story,” he continues.
“We wrote three or four different ‘I want’ songs. Each one would last for maybe six months of rehearsals, and then the director would come to us and say, ‘It’s not quite right. It needs to be more like this.’ It wasn’t for lack of us giving him what he’d asked for, but the goal posts kept moving, too. As the rehearsals evolved, as actors came in, and even brought some of their own sensibilities to the project, the director would re-think a scene, and then send us back to write a whole new song.
“The ‘I want’ song was three or four songs over two or three years. That was a difficult one to get. ‘Anywhere But Here’ is what it’s called. The other critical point is what they call the 11 o’clock number. That’s the second-to-last song. That’s another spot where things get wrapped up, story-wise. Our song is called ‘Long Way Home.’ That was one of the first songs we wrote and presented, back in 2015. That song stayed in almost unchanged through the whole course of the project. Finally, the closing number [‘Together Forever’]. You want to send the audience home happy.
“We get a standing ovation every night, which is nice. I’m guessing the closing number does what it was intended to do,” Vallance concludes.
The resulting two-act score — available in sequence, including preamble and reprise, on Pretty Woman: The Musical (Original Broadway Cast recording) — features 20 original songs, from the opening number, “Welcome To Hollywood,” to punchy big finale, “Together Forever.”
Many have that Adams sound (“It’s sort of unavoidable, that’s how we write,” says Vallance). The Latin-flavored tango “On A Night Like Tonight” recalls his Oscar-nominated hit “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?” There’s a familiar feel, from the lyrical phrasing of the ballads “Freedom” and “You and I,” to the injection of rock in the driving duet “You’re Beautiful,” the stomping “Never Give Up,” and the anthemic “I Can’t Go Back.” But the duo also venture beyond the familiar, with the jazzy “Don’t Forget To Dance,” and even include a rap in “Never Give Up.”
“I’m proud of it,” says Adams. “It was a lot of work. It was a lot of fun, and I think the cast is great. We went through a lot of work to get to this point. I was saying the other day, I wish I was stepping into another one right away, because it’s got my head in that space at the moment.”
Perhaps Summer of 69: The Musical? We could find out whatever happened to Jimmy and Jody, and the other guys from school…