The national tour of the comedy musical Tootsie was on-stage at Capital One Hall in Tysons, Virginia this past weekend. Based on the 1982 comedy of the same name, starring Dustin Hoffman, the musical tells the story of a talented yet arrogant and difficult stage actor, Michael Dorsey, who disguises himself as a woman named Dorothy Michaels out of desperation to land a gig.
With music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Robert Horn, the musical makes several alterations to the story to modernize the material and further accentuate the digs at sexism and misogyny. And while there is still much room for growth in the department of social commentary, the show takes steps in the right direction.
First, though, I must mention the unlucky technical issue the show had on opening night during the opening number. As the curtain was rising, what appeared to be part of the rigging fell stage left and remained swinging, with part of the unraised curtain a few feet above head level throughout the number. The actors, in full “the show must go on” mode, powered through the number, with slight formation alterations to avoid anyone standing under the precariously hanging pieces. Once the number was done, the show was halted and the stage was cleared to address the issue.
After an hour-long delay, with much of the audience intermingling and conversation teeming with curiosity, amusement, and concern, the show began again, from the beginning, to boisterous applause. It was one of those beautiful live theater moments where the audience and the actor’s mutual appreciation for each other makes the show palpably more exciting. An unfortunate shared experience that accentuated the joy and escapism that is live theater.
Now back to the show.
Drew Becker plays Michael Dorsey, bursting with confidence and entitlement to the recognition of his talents. The actor gets in his own way with his inability to compromise or take value in the opportunities he’s given. Dorsey could easily be a conceited and unlikeable character, but Becker does a great job of illustrating his blindness to privilege and highlighting the ludicrous way that this ignorance sets him up for disaster and, hopefully, enlightenment.
Once Becker steps into the shoes of Dorothy, the level of wild inappropriateness is off the charts for Dorsey. He betrays a dear friend, lies to new co-workers, assumes the representation of female empowerment all while being a white, straight male. Yet, he still congratulates himself on his success and contribution! It’s an outlandish level of arrogance, but maybe that’s part of the point?
Becker’s Dorothy sings the knockout “Unstoppable” for the Act One finale. He has a lovely falsetto, though his volume is sometimes low. But what he lacks in amplification is made up for in passion and dedication.
Dorsey’s friend, roommate, and fellow unaccomplished artist, Jeff, is played by Matt Kurzyniec (in for Michael Grant). Jeff is Michael’s voice of reason (which Michael repeatedly ignores) and Kurzyniec plays the blunt, biting, but caring friend perfectly.
Act Two’s “Jeff Sums It Up” is a spot-on representation of his character as he relays to Michael with unflinching honesty how he:
[…] fucked it up!
You really fucked it up.
There are countless comedic moments in the musical but the over-the-top ex-girlfriend, Sandy (Payton Reilly), is a show-stealer. Her paranoid and manic “What’s Gonna Happen” is anxiety personified as she obsesses over all the things that will go wrong in an upcoming audition.
Sandy is one of the less fleshed-out characters of the show, with more emphasis on her codependency with her ex Dorsey, who enables her unhealthy attachment. But Reilly does a remarkable job bringing her character to life by capturing her scenes with enthusiasm and on-point comic timing.
Ashley Alexandra plays Julie Nichols, Dorothy’s co-star in the new show, Juliet’s Curse. Aside from Alexandra’s exquisite voice, her portrayal of an independent woman who knows what she wants and stands up for herself is beautiful and refreshing.
Alexandra and Becker have a natural and easy chemistry together, which is gorgeously evident in their duet “Who Are You.” And Alexandra’s funky “Gone, Gone, Gone” is a killer number and highlight of the show, with the help of backup singers Layla Ali, Nicole Fragala, and Laura Guley.
The quasi-talented and sexist Director Choreographer, Ron Carlisle, is all too snarkily played by Adam Du Plessis. Du Plessis oozes with smarminess and an over-inflated ego; add to that his ridiculous “choreography” instructions to his actors of “bounce bounce bounce bounce, Fosse arm, Fosse arm, restless leg, yeah” and he is the epitome of villains you love to hate in a musical.
Playing almost a polar opposite to Carlisle is Kathy Halenda as Rita Marshall, the producer of Juliet’s Curse. Halenda has the intensity and grit that keeps the otherwise overbearing Carlisle in his place and allows Julie and Dorothy to exercise their own creativity, turning the “Juliet” show from a potential failure into a smash hit.
Max Van Horn, reality star and token objectified male, is played by the fantastically funny Matthew Rella. Rella could easily be upstaged by his own washboard abs (which make repeated, welcome appearances), but he does a good job as the lesser-intelligent but genuine sweetheart, who falls for Dorothy’s charms in the comical “This Thing” — which endears him to the audience only slightly more than his shirt-ripping scenes.
Tootsie is a stunner on many levels, performance-wise but also technically. William Ivey Long’s amazing costume design, along with some impressive and flawlessly executed costume changes, deserves its own bow. Dorothy has a few breathtaking reveals that are just as much costume as character.
And Christine Peters’ scenic design works smoothly with Dave Solomon’s direction and Denis Jones’ original Broadway choreography. I love a production that carries the action from scene to scene with seamless transitions and no unnecessary blackouts to lag the show’s momentum.
Tootsie is a light-hearted and hilarious musical. The songs are delightful and easy to cheer along to. And the cast creates a high-energy ride that’s a joy to watch. And maybe in the future, we’ll see an even more evolved version that does not require the male lead to fall for the female lead in order to embrace his journey to find his own true voice and true self. But that would be another show entirely. And while Tootsie does not push a political stance, it goes a long way to emphasize the sexism and patriarchal disparities that women encounter on a daily basis, and how society can be oblivious to it.
Tootsie is appropriate for all ages and is a wonderful outing for families, dates, or any night out. You will laugh until your side hurts and walk out with a smile on your face.
Running Time: Approximately two hours 35 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Tootsie played from November 25 to 27, 2022, in the Main Theater at Capital One Hall – 7750 Capital One Tower Road, Tysons, VA. Tickets for future Tootsie tour dates and locations are available online. Tickets for upcoming shows at Capital One Hall are available for purchase online or by calling the box office at 703-343-7651.
The Tootsie program is available here.
COVID Safety: Patrons attending events* at Capital One Hall are no longer required to wear masks or provide proof of their vaccination status. Although masks are not required, they are encouraged. *Subject to change based on tour/artist requirements. See specific show page for any special requirements.
CAST: DREW BECKER (Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels), ASHLEY ALEXANDRA (Julie Nichols), PAYTON REILLY (Sandy Lester), MATTHEW RELLA (Max Van Horn), JARED DAVID MICHAEL GRANT (Jeff Slater), KATHY HALENDA (Rita Marshall), DIANNE B. MANASTER (Fran Fields), ADAM DU PLESSIS (Ron Carlisle), LEYLA ALI (Ensemble), LEXI BALDACHINO (Swing, Dance Captain), MATHEW BAUTISTA (Ensemble, u/s Max), KYRA CHRISTOPHER (Ensemble), MIA DAVIDSON (Ensemble), JAVIAN DEPALMA (Ensemble), NICOLE FRAGALA (Ensemble), LAURA GULEY (Ensemble), BRIAN CEDRIC JONES (Ensemble, u/s Jeff), MATT KURZYNIEC (Ensemble), ROBERT MILLER (Swing, Assistant Dance Captain), KAIMANA NEIL (Ensemble), ARIANNA SCHRAGE (Ensemble), JOSH WOODIE (Ensemble, u/s Ron)
CREATIVE TEAM: DAVID YAZBEK (Music and Lyrics), ROBERT HORN (Book), DAVE SOLOMON (Director), SCOTT ELLIS (Original Broadway Director), DENIS JONES (Broadway Choreography), ANDREA GRODY (Supervising Music Director, Vocal & Incidental Arrangements), DAVID CHASE (Dance Arrangements), CHRISTINE PETERS (Tour Scenic Design), WILLIAM IVEY LONG (Costume Design), DONALD HOLDER (Lighting Design), BRIAN RONAN (Sound Design), PAUL HUNTLEY (Hair & Wig Design), ANGELINA AVALLONE (Make-Up Design), BINDER CASTING (Casting), AARON DIFRANCIA (Company Manager), BRIANNA THOMPSON (Assistant Company Manager), ANDREW DAVID SOTOMAYOR (Music Director), JOSH CEBALLOS (Music Director), ANDREW TERLIZZI (General Manager), HEATHER CHOCKLEY (Production Management), DEAN SHARENOW (Music Supervisor), TALITHA FEHR (Music Coordinator), ALLIED GLOBAL MARKETING (Tour Marketing & Press), THE BOOKING GROUP (Tour Booking Agency), NEURO TOUR (Physical Therapy)
ORCHESTRA: Conductor, Keyboard 2: Andrew David Sotomayor, Josh Ceballos; Associate Conductor, Keyboard 1: Sam Groisser; Drums, Percussion: Paul Merendino, Jr; Bass; BrandonKyle Miller; Guitar: Jared Cannata; Reed 1: Kevin Vu; Reed 2: Clayton Williams; Trumpet 1, Flugelhorn: Bill Dowling; Trumpet 2: Kyle Knepper; Trombone: Megan O’Malley; Band Tech: Paul Merendino, Jr.; Music Supervisor: Dean Sharenow; Supervising Music Director: Andrea Grody; Music Coordinator: Talitha Fehr; Electronic Music Design: Billy Jay Stein and Hiro Iida for Strange Cranium Productions, Inc.
‘Tootsie’ on tour at the National Theatre is a triumph (review of the national touring production by Sophia Howes, December 9, 2021)