Pretty Woman The Musical: TV star Ore Oduba talks about his role in hit production

Pretty Woman: The Musical is coming to The Edinburgh Playhouse this April. The ultimate Hollywood rom-com stars TV and radio presenter Ore Oduba who speaks with Rosie Morton about his experiences on tour, pre-show rituals, and his love of Scotland

What a thrill it must be to be part of such an iconic story. Tell me about it.
It has been wonderful. I was in work the other day and I had done the opening number, and I came back stage to get changed into my next outfit. I remember saying to my friends in wardrobe, ‘Do you know what, it’s mad.’ Regardless of any mood that I might be in when I come in to work, as soon as I start the show amongst this wonderful bunch of people that puts together this show, and a really loving audience, I’m just having the best time.

How has the response from the audience been so far?
It has been tremendous. It was such a success in London, it seemed to go down really well. It’s one of the most loved movies of all time.

You must be singing Pretty Woman all day in your head, even when you’re not on stage?
It’s quite hard not to! We have been a little bit ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ with the Pretty Woman theme tune!

We’ve been doing the first iteration of it on the road and going to all corners of the country for people who might not have got to see it in London. The response has been amazing. People are really excited to see Pretty Woman: The Musical. We are thrilled and really honoured to be at the heart of it.

Pretty Woman: The Musical. [Credit: Marc Brenner]

Tell me about your role – it’s a dual role?
Yes! I wonder if I should be getting paid more, now that I come to think of it. Now you say it, I am doing two for the price of one! Actually, there are more guises behind this character, as audience members will discover when they come and see the show. It’s brilliant really.

So, I’m Mr Thompson. As fans of the movie will remember, he is the hotel manager. He starts off as a bit of a stern character, but he warms to Vivian and they have a lovely relationship. He looks out for her, as a kind of uncle. That’s a lot of fun. To be fair, it’s probably the most dancey role I’ve ever done to this point. So, there is this conservative character who breaks into song and dance occasionally which is quite fun because he has that pent-up performer behind the three-piece suit and tie.

Then, there’s the Happy Man character. He does exist in the movie – you’d probably blink and miss him. They’ve brought that guy to life a bit more. He’s a dogsbody on the boulevard. I’ve been describing him as Fagan in that he knows everybody. Within this story, he’s the one that brings the magic. The guys behind the movie who have written the stage show have really wanted to lean in on the fairytale of it. It is an iconic story and it is an iconic movie, but in order to adapt it for theatre they wanted to heighten that idea of the fairytale – a woman who’s in one place in her life, dreams of being in another. So, Happy Man is a kind of narrator/fairy godfather. He sprinkles the magic on Vivian’s story.

What was the audition process like? I’m guessing that your time on Strictly Come Dancing helped?
Any audition is the most intense, uncomfortable, terrifying experience! Until you get in the room. Because in many ways, half of the battle is the anticipation, the fear that you’re going to be faced with a panel à la Simon Cowell’s X Factor auditions. You know, sullen faces and raised eyebrows… You get sweaty weeks before it’s happening. There was some dancing to be done, but as far as the audition goes, I was just trying to bring some fun to it.

I did do Strictly Come Dancing, and I did do quite well, but still to this day I couldn’t say that I’m a trained dancer. People spend decades of their life training. I spent a few weeks on a television show and learned – that doesn’t mean I’ve been trained. That’s important because when it comes to an audition room, you’re in front of choreographers! I’m very conscious that if I try to do what I think looks good in my head (without that reality check that I haven’t got decades of experience), what would be thrown on there would be à la Bambi on ice. So no, you have to know your skill set, what you can bring, your USP. I like to bring the fun.

Ore will be playing a dual role. [Credit: Marc Brenner]

The musical has brand new music written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. What has it been like working with such creative talent?
It’s not directly with them but we did have Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance come to the last day of rehearsal which was terrifying because it was completely unannounced. We were actually winding down. We’d had four weeks and it had been quite an intense process just getting ourselves up to speed. We were getting ready to run the show through but the general tone was, ‘Let’s not push ourselves, we’ve got a big week getting technically ready for the show’. Then we were opening in Birmingham. We’d kind of taken the foot off the gas a little bit but also wanted to get the job done.

We’d broken away to get warmed up and ready to start the show and our associate director was at the door of the rehearsal room. And you know, he’s a director – he’s usually very good with his words. But this time he was quite meek and there was a slight break in his voice as he gingerly said, ‘Guys? Bryan Adams is here.’ People were running for sick bags, the toilet queue got very long… But the two of them were sat there in the front and they were lapping it up. And I made Bryan laugh! I just thought, ‘We’re going to have some interesting audiences, but if you can make Bryan Adams laugh, you’re ready for any audience now.’

Have you got any pre-show rituals?
Everything is very purposeful. I don’t do anything unintentionally. I wouldn’t say I’m superstitious but I would say I’m ritualistic, in the loosest sense. You just have a process of getting ready, right? They don’t just throw it together. I have my routine. Just before the show, I like to go off into a dark corner. It’s very bright when you go out on the stage, so I quite like going off into a dark corner. This is my World Cup moment, you know? This is my Olympics. Whereas Usain Bolt might like to step out and enjoy the party and get all the volunteers involved, I prefer to go into a dark space (literally, not figuratively!) My character, Happy Man, opens the show. He welcomes the audience. So, it’s always nice to just get into that place where you’re going to say hello to 2,000 people.

What’s your favourite thing about coming up to Scotland?
It often feels like a home away from home because it’s probably the part of the world that I have travelled the most.

I left home at 19 and have been a nomad ever since really. But if there’s one place that I have frequented the most, it probably has been Scotland. There’s a lot of TV work up there that I’ve done over the years. I remember having an amazing time at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 in Glasgow. I always look forward to it – it’s as simple as that. As soon as you get to Scotland, it’s always the warmest welcome – even if, like in Aberdeen, I nearly got caught in snow storm. I think I nearly got diverted to Geneva!

[Credit: Marc Brenner]

You’re going to be in Edinburgh for the tour in April. What will you get up to in your downtime?
My family are actually coming up for a holiday, so we’re going to have some time to take the kids around Edinburgh. I always remember my dad taking me and my siblings on a half-term break to Edinburgh. And I remember him telling us that we were staying at The Ritz hotel. Now, there isn’t a Ritz hotel in Edinburgh, but telling children that, we were excited. It was a lovely hotel but it wasn’t the Ritz! That was probably the first sign that my dad wasn’t as clued up as he might have thought he was.

I’ll never forget him deciding that he wanted to take us on a bus tour of the city. But rather than pay for the open-top sightseeing bus tour, he just took us on a bus! So, I remember going to the top deck of a double decker bus that was running down the centre of Edinburgh. We sat on that bus until it went past Murrayfield. Then we went to the other side of the road and came back into town! That was my dad’s tour of Edinburgh.

I’d like to think I’ll do it slightly differently when my family come up, but having said that it’s still a fond memory of mine. So, maybe we’ll just do that for fun.

Whether it’s a good book or a special pillow for the hotel, what can’t you live without when you’re on tour?
I should probably get a silk pillow case, that would be nice. But I haven’t got it yet. That’s on the list. Other than that, it’s probably something that’s going to help my broken body feel normal again at the end of the day. I’ve been through a number of foam rollers – I keep breaking them because I’m quite heavy when I sit on them – and I’ve got myself a massage gun. So, yes – some kind of massage gun or foam roller. Because I’m working with people half my age on the show. I’m not going to say I’m old, but when you’re working with people half your age, it just reminds you that your body doesn’t repair as well as theirs!  I just need a few bits of equipment to help me feel normal again after a long eight-show week.

Pretty Woman: The Musical will be playing live at Edinburgh Playhouse from 2 April -13 April. See further details on the ATG Tickets website.

[Credit: Marc Brenner]

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