Philly audiences may be thrilled at the sight of Adam Pascal (famed for the original Broadway run of “Rent”) and Olivia Valli (Four Seasons’ legend Frankie Valli’s granddaughter) in the stage version of the Richard Gere/Julia Roberts classic “Pretty Woman: The Musical” running at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’s Academy of Music through Jan. 16.
As far as the sound of its music goes, however, Philly’s Pretty Woman benefits from the mega-platinum, hit-making largesse of its rocking, narrative-driven composers, Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.
Since 1975, Vallance – first as part of the Canadian metal band Prism, then soon after with rough-edged vocalist/guitarist Bryan Adams – has amassed a slew of story-driven rockers and big ballads, all of which portray romance, wrong or right, at its most dramatic. With Adams that has meant (so far; their freshest work comes out this spring on Adams’s new album) iconic hits such as “Cuts Like a Knife” and “Summer of ’69.” Vallance has also penned platinum-plus singles for Aerosmith (“Rag Doll”), Heart (“What About Love”), Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss and more.
Vallance, a songwriting drummer at his start, got out of the performing end of rock and roll because, quite frankly, he didn’t feel like being one of “the five guys in a heavy metal band sharing bedrooms and bathrooms on tour,” he says with a laugh. “I gave up my drum spot and stayed home and wrote songs. There’s precedence for that: The Beatles and Brian Wilson got tired of touring as well, and focused on songwriting and recording.”
Speaking on the anniversary of their meeting (Jan. 9), Vallance recalls hooking up with Adams while the singer was still living with his mom, but with plenty of attitude and ability to go around. “I didn’t know quite what it was, then, but I knew he had something,” says Vallance, about Adams. “Forty-odd years later, we’re still doing it together. It’s a great relationship.”
Vallance’s way with matching grandly theatrical melody to narrative – to say nothing of Adams’ similarly vibing talents – has always been dynamic and script-ready in my humble opinion.
“Story has always been important to me when writing songs,” says Vallance. “’Summer of ’69′ came with characters moving through a middle, beginning and an end, even some autographical references talking about high school and the bands I had. That said, songs, though, are one thing. Writing for Broadway is quite another.”
Going back 12 years, it was the suggestion of a friend of Adams that he extend his reach into musical theater. Oddly enough, Adams’ first choice was a musical version of Pretty Woman – the Garry Marshall-directed comedy about a wealthy businessman who falls in love with a giddy prostitute – which, at that time, wasn’t available from its producing studio (Disney) as an adaptable project.
“Fast forward several years, and Bryan gets a call that suddenly a musical version of Pretty Woman is going into production, and had yet to decide on its composers,” says Vallance. “Long story short, Bryan and I met with its director/choreographer, Jerry Mitchell, in a pizza shop in London’s West End and we all clicked.”
Clicked, yes, but Vallance wasn’t thoroughly sold on the project as he had never written anything remotely stage-ready.
“Until something fell out of the sky, I had nothing. I think I was intimidated at the prospect. When it finally did come – with Bryan’s urging – that is what we brought to the team in New York to finally seal the deal, an opening number, ‘Welcome to Hollywood,’ that we wrote without entirely knowing what we were doing. Bryan talked me off of the ledge and instilled confidence in me.”
Vallance was a happily hands-on presence during Pretty Woman: The Musical’s initial 2018 run in Chicago, as well as its Broadway debut at the Nederlander Theatre later that same year.
“Without exaggeration, I was there 12 hours a day, seven days week, during the three years that it took to get to the first stage,” says Vallance. “I didn’t know THAT going in, but I wanted to own it. It was tough working with a tenacious choreographer, but we did it successfully. We wrote 40 some songs to get the 20 that you’ll hear during the show. We even threw out songs and added new ones as late as when we were already on Broadway. I approved all orchestra members. I fired drummers and guitarists. I wanted it to be to mine and Bryan’s usual standards.”
The Philly version of Pretty Woman: The Musical’s soundtrack is ripe with fresh-faced rockets, precious pop tunes and yearning, bold ballads. All that success, and Vallance is surely ready for his next musical.
“Noooo,” Vallance says with a laugh. “I don’t think that I would do it again. It was a steep learning curve. Pretty Woman: The Musical was a wonderful experience but I don’t know if I have another lengthy exercise as such in me. Hats off to the guys who do it again and again and do it well. I am happy I did this one though. Pretty Woman was worth it.”