TOOTSIE at Fox Theater Review

– By Cate Marquis –

The Tony-winning Broadway hit “Tootsie” strides onto the Fabulous Fox stage, bringing laughter and some food for thought on gender roles. It is based, of course, on the Oscar-winning movie TOOTSIE, starring Dustin Hoffman as an out-of-work actor whose reputation for perfectionism has made him practically unemployable, forcing him to dress as a woman to audition for a role as a middle-aged nurse. Shockingly, he lands the role, which leads to all kinds of complications, as well as a new understanding of how women are treated in a male-dominated society. But this musical updates the ’80s movie for the contemporary world, while leaning into the comedy side. While there have been a spate of Broadway musical adaptations of movies, following in the footsteps of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” with mixed results, “Tootsie” is a winner.

The Tony Award-winning “Tootsie” is one of the best of these movie-musical productions, a funny and tuneful musical that goes for the comic side while updating the story from the original movie. This Broadway touring musical comedy version refreshes the story of the somewhat dated ’80s romantic dramedy movie, making it more contemporary and more comic, and bringing current views on gender and other matters. The lead character (the Dustin Hoffman part) in this new Broadway show is more a jerk to everyone, not just women, before his cross-dressing experience teaches him a better way to treat the people around him. The stronger focus on comedy rather than preachy messaging also makes the story feel more modern. That, plus a talented cast and tuneful songs, make “Tootsie” much more entertaining than the typical Broadway movie-to-musical adaptation.

Drew Becker plays that out-of-luck New York actor, Michael Dorsey, whose perfectionism and criticism have earned him a bad reputation for being difficult, which makes a future career as a waiter much more likely for the aspiring actor. His roommate and best friend Jeff (Jared David Michael Grant), an aspiring playwright who can’t quite finish the play he has been working on since he moved to New York, tries to help Michael by getting him to realize that he is being his own worst enemy. Yet Michael remains stubbornly clueless. When Michael’s perpetually-insecure friend and sometimes girlfriend Sandy (Payton Reilly) seeks Michael’s help to prepare for an audition, for a role she desperately wants, he agrees to help. The role is playing the Nurse in a Broadway version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and as Michael does his best to coach Sandy past her crippling insecurity, he slowly concludes he could do the role better. So Michael dons a wig and dress, adds some lipstick and pitches his voice higher, and becomes Dorothy Michaels. After Sandy strikes out in her audition, Michael auditions as Dorothy Michaels – and nails it, with a fresh twist on the Nurse as a more assertive character.

This puts Michael playing Dorothy playing the Nurse in close proximity to Julie Nichols (Ashley Alexandra), who is playing Juliet. While Julie and Dorothy become friends, Michael finds himself falling in love with the leading lady. But how can he get to know her as Michael instead of her pal and confident Dorothy?

The cast of the National Tour of TOOTSIE, with Drew Becker as Dorothy in the center. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade. Courtesy of the Fabulous Fox Theater.

Leaning into the humor means the show can take advantage of a long list of gender-confusion comic predecessors, starting with classic films like “Some Like It Hot.” The play cleverly, wisely leans into the comedy inherent in this kind of cross-dressing role, a classic standard of farce, while also winking at the audience about the way this kind of disguise has cropped up in Shakespearean comedies repeatedly. This approach gives the cast, and the story, much more comedy room to play in than the original movie, and the cast runs with it.

Parents should note that this musical is basically a sex farce, and therefore it is sometimes a bit too adult for youngest audiences. The songs are tuneful but the lyrics of some of them lean saucy to salty. “Jeff Sums It Up,” the opening number of the second act, while one of the show’s best songs, is also sprinkled with F-bombs, even in the chorus. It is funny, and a heck of a song, but definitely for grown-ups.

That willingness to take chances is one of the things that makes this show so engaging and entertaining. Drew Becker carries a lot of the weight of keeping the show popping but . Jared David Michael Grant as Jeff often steals the show, particularly with that salty showstopper that opens the second act. Payton Reilly’s wildly emotional comic take on Sandy.also sometimes steals the spotlight, particularly in her slapstick crazy meltdown at the beginning of Act Two. Ashley Alexandra , as Julie/Juliet, brings the show its sweetness and a deeper side, as well as a very fine voice. One of the nice contemporary touches of this touring Broadway hit is it’s diverse casting, and the fact that Ashley Alexandra does not fit the typical slim blonde leading lady stereotype is a refreshing delight, especially with her lovely voice and on-stage charm.

The choreography and staging all support the humor, with plenty of doors to slam and quick costume changes for Michael as he tries to juggle his dual identity. The show’s Romeo, Max (Matthew Rella), is a handsome young guy who likes to take off his shirt but it is light on brains (and a character Rella milks for all the laughs). When this dim hunk falls for Dorothy (similar to something in the movie although this show gives it a new twist), things get even crazier for Michael. as he tries to keep all the juggling balls in the air while trying to figure it out what he has gotten wrong about life and people.

“Tootsie,” and its winning cast, deliver a fine and funny evening of entertainment, thanks to some successfully updates to the original movie. The result is a show that rises above the entertainment level of the typical movie musicals now crowding stages. “Tootsie” is certainly fun, and there is no need to have seen the movie to have a great time at this rollicking show.

“Tootsie” is on stage at the Fabulous Fox through Apr. 2.

© Cate Marquis

Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey and Jared David Michael Grant as Jeff Slater in the National Tour of TOOTSIE. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade. Courtesy of the Fabulous Fox Theater