How do you even possibly try to play two of the most iconic roles in movie history played by two of the most famous stars?
That's the question posed to the stars of the upcoming musical version of "Pretty Woman" opening Tuesday, Dec. 5 and running through Sunday, Dec. 10 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
Leading the North American tour are Ellie Baker as Vivian Ward, the role made famous by Julia Roberts, as the L.A. escort with the infectious laugh, and Edward Lewis, the tough businessman who hires Vivian to stay with him at his Beverly Hills hotel for a week.
"I think if you are looking for Julia Roberts or Richard Gere, you are probably not going to get that. We took these characters, and we made them our own," says Baker, who adds that audiences will see how well the story lends itself to music.
"There's a heightened reality with the music and those big personalities," she says.
Wolfe points out that audiences don't get to see the closeups on stage that they can see in a movie. "You know, where he stares lovingly at Vivian? You actually have to express that and luckily, we are able to do that through song. So, the look that the character would be able to convey in the movie I get to do that through song," he says.
The stage adaptation features original music by singer-songwriter Bryan Adams and his writing partner Jim Vallance. Vallance and Adams collaborated on familiar Top 40 hits that put Adams on the charts like "Run to You" and "Summer of '69."
Wolfe says that the music does have the Adams' rock sound and he's found his perfect fit. "The note I used to get from directors was, 'You're too rock and roll for Broadway and you're too musical theater for rock and roll,' so I live somewhere in that world, which luckily for me for this show it really works out."
Despite the new music, the story stays the same. The musical book was written by Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton, the director and screenwriter of the original movie. And, yes, there's the famous necklace scene in which Vivian is surprised when Edward snaps the box shut on her fingers.
The actor playing Edward Lewis says it's a moment to watch for between Baker and him, too, during the same magical scene in the musical.
"It was an iconic improv moment in the movie where Richard Gere shuts the necklace box and Julia Roberts snorts and giggles and that was improvised and they kept the shot. So, every night in our show, when Ellie laughs, it is always the most genuine moment because I never close the box at the same time, so she never knows when it's going to happen!"
For both actors, the national tour is a big moment every night. Wolfe says he's spent much of his professional career up until this time performing on cruise ships. "I have been with Norwegian Cruise lines so performing in and out of Miami quite a bit since it is the cruise capital of the world."
He joined the tour on Oct. 2 and will be in the show until May 19. Originally from South Carolina, Wolfe says his first professional experience was when he was in high school when he got to work with Broadway legend Debbie Allen in her show "Brothers of the Night." During Allen's tour of her show, she chose local dancers who were selected and trained by her and a team of master dance artists. He was one of them.
Baker describes being cast in the lead as a "crazy whirlwind" having auditioned for a role in the ensemble. The New Jersey native graduated from Marymount Manhattan in 2020 but, she says, this is her first professional theater role. She also joined the tour in October after rehearsals, which started in August.
"They called me back for the dance audition and then they called me back to understudy, Vivian, Kit and Scarlett who sings one of the dance numbers. And then they pulled me aside and they're like, 'Okay, you got a final call. But we're only considering you for Vivian now not just understudying Vivian,' " she recalls. "A week before that, I thought I was just going to be in my financial advisement job for who knows how long."
Her story is almost like the end of the "Pretty Woman" film where the character, only identified as "Happy Man" in the script says: "Welcome to Hollywood. What's your dream? Everybody comes here. This is Hollywood, the land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don't. But keep on dreamin'. This is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin'. "
She says the role is, no doubt, her dream role, but it is a huge responsibility. She said it was her co-star who helped to calm her nerves.
"I was scared, and I was like, 'I don't know how I'm going to do this for nine months; my voice isn't ready. I haven't performed like this ever.' And Chase told me, 'If you are the same Vivian, you are in May that you are in October, you are doing it all wrong. You are going to grow, you are going to change, and you are going to have growing pains. But you will be so much better off in the end.' Knowing that I'm not only going to grow as a character, but grow as a performer. I think that's about the best advice I've gotten so far."
"Pretty Woman: The Musical" opens at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5, with shows at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6, Thursday, Dec. 7 and Friday, Dec. 8; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9; and 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10,. Tickets cost between $35 to $130. The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Call (305) 949-6722 or arshtcenter.org.