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Orbison’s Hit Song Finds Its Place in Namesake Musical

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Pretty Woman: The Musical celebrated the first anniversary of its premiere by adding the Roy Orbison number from which it took its name to the curtain call.

That’s right – a whole year of performances were staged minus the rock ‘n’ roll classic after which the show was named.

Where the movie soundtrack featured a grab-bag of performers (David Bowie, Peter Cetera, Go West, etc.), Orbison’s song plays as lead character Vivian shops for clothes on famed Rodeo Drive. The musical substitutes new songs written by pop-rocker Bryan Adams and songwriting partner Jim Vallance.

Don’t get us wrong – if you want to invoke the late ‘80s-early ‘90s through radio-friendly rock tunes, Adams is the way to go.

But leaving out Roy Orbison? That’s unforgiveable.

“Oh, Pretty Woman,” to give it its full title, was one of Orbison’s biggest hits, reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1964. It’s an upbeat tune which makes it an atypical Orbison release.

He knew how to rock and he put down a few tracks, mostly early in his career, that established that fact, rockabilly rave-ups such as “Ooby Dooby” and “Go, Go, Go.” But Orbison was better known for his ballads – haunting, dreamlike and almost inevitably sad.

“Crying,” “Running Scared” (his only other No. 1), “In Dreams” – this is the deep, dark Orbison, haunted and brokenhearted. That amazing, one-of-a-kind voice slowly builds up throughout each of the songs until he reaches the final, soaring peak.

These songs inhabit a dreamlike – sometimes bordering on nightmarish – state. No wonder director David Lynch, whose films often seem set in dreams, has used Orbison’s music to great effect.

Blue Velvet (1986) features Dean Stockwell lip-syncing to “In Dreams.” If Stockwell’s performance is strange and disturbing, and it is, the reaction it gets from the villain Frank (Dennis Hopper) is even more so. Hopper watches Stockwell intently, occasionally mouthing the lyrics, finally dissolving into facial tics that suggest he doesn’t know whether to cry or punch someone. Lynch dipped into the Orbison catalog again for 2001’s Mulholland Drive, in which Rebekah Del Rio performs a devastatingly emotional Spanish-language version of “Crying.”

“Oh, Pretty Woman” is a decidedly more lighthearted affair with its assertive beat and that signature guitar line. The only hint of melancholy is in the song’s middle section, but that turns around quickly when the pretty woman in question starts walkin’ back to Roy.

So why wasn’t Orbison’s tune included in the stage production in the first place? I’ll go out on a limb and guess it had something to do with money. Regardless, it’s been added and we suspect the musical is better for it.

Mercy!

See Pretty Woman: The Musical at The Straz May 17-22.

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