Back in 1982, Dustin Hoffman made viewers laugh in the film Tootsie, about a difficult actor who dresses as a woman to land work. Today, Robert Horn (book) and David Yazbek (music and lyrics) have teamed up to bring the story to musical life with a show by the same name. Featuring the charming Drew Becker as actor Michael Dorsey who dresses up to become “Dorothy Michaels,” it’s a funny, laugh-a-minute show, onstage now at DPAC, that puts a modern, surprisingly responsible spin on the subject matter.
The production roars to life with a cheeky opening number within an opening number, one that pokes fun at theatre itself and that sets the irreverent tone that pervades throughout. Viewers meet Michael and discover the strong opinions that make him a challenge to work with. They’re also introduced to his roommate and pal, Jeff, lovably portrayed by Jared David Michael Grant, and Michael’s ex-turned-friend, the needy, neurotic Sandy. In this role is Payton Reilly, and she’s an instant scene stealer. Reilly hams it up at all the right moments and makes her troubled character one to root for. Her delivery of “What’s Gonna Happen” had the opening night audience in stitches thanks to her quirky characterization. She’s not the only fun one in the bunch either. Lukas James Miller brings lots of laughs as the not-so-bright reality start turned actor, Max Van Horn, who finds himself attracted to a whole new kind of woman.
It is through Sandy that Michael gets the idea to try out for a part dressed as “Dorothy.” This impulsive decision, made without considering the troubling implications, fuels the story’s action as “Dorothy” lands a part and, through that part, meets actress Julie (Ashley Alexandra) and develops feelings for her. And, given the actress’ sweet-yet-strong portrayal, it’s easy to see why.
Though the script is purposefully hokey and jokey throughout, it’s not afraid to confront modern issues that touch the story. Mentions of inequitable pay, unfair casting, unreasonable physical expectations for female actresses, and even sexual harassment are peppered throughout, reminding audiences that, behind the laughter, there’s still a lot of work to be done. This, in addition to diverse and inclusive casting, elevates the production from merely enjoyable and silly to surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful.
Unafraid to pick on and to pick apart its own medium and its consumptive nature, Tootsie says a lot, while still managing to be light, frothy, and fully enjoyable. Fun choreography from Denis Jones and a cute, cartoonish set by Christine Peters, all under the direction of Dave Solomon, come together with strong performances to take a fun show and make it something more.
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