Paula Wagner has experienced a sort of homecoming this year. Returning to her roots in the theater, the powerhouse film producer has brought the musical adaptation of the beloved 1990 movie "Pretty Woman" to the stage.
Though she has been working in film since the late 1970s, Wagner’s love for entertaining began at age 13 at the Youngstown Playhouse in Youngstown, Ohio. She was accepted to the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama as an actress and earned her drama degree in 1969.
"I think that the philosophy of Carnegie Mellon, ’My heart is in the work,’ is a simple one, and it can be translated in many ways."
"I think that the philosophy of Carnegie Mellon, ’My heart is in the work,’ is a simple one, and it can be translated in many ways," Wagner explained. "At CMU, there was a commitment to what we were doing, to the work we were doing, because it had a meaning and relevance. Entertaining people, making them smile, inspiring them, making them think and walking out feeling good was important. Elevating the human condition was as important as tearing it apart and examining it."
Wagner cites her work in the theater and learning everything about it for giving her the tools to move forward into a career as an agent, and now a producer.
"Every single part of my training has supported my career choices," she said.
When Wagner joined Creative Artists Agency in 1980, she was one of only a few female agents there. She remembers having to work harder, smarter and more efficiently than her male counterparts to gain the respect she knew she deserved for her work.
"You have to hold yourself in high regard and demand that everyone around you hold you in high regard as well," she advised.
Wagner’s agility and love of storytelling have given her career longevity and allowed her the ability to work across mediums. "Pretty Woman: The Musical" is the fourth Broadway show she has produced and has been a labor of love six years in the making. The show just celebrated its 300th performance and has broken four house records. It is scheduled to open in Germany and London next year, as well as embarking on a national tour.
"It always felt like it was a musical," Wagner said. "I thought it could be a terrific show for Broadway, a heartfelt, funny, sexy and uplifting. This is a feel-good musical in a kind of feel bad time."