Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Based on the hit 1982 film, the Broadway production of Tootsie opened in 2019 after a Chicago tryout the year before. It is the story of a hot-tempered but talented stage actor who has gained a bad reputation in the theatre world. Out of desperation, he adopts a new identity as a woman in order to land a job. The book by Robert Horn is hilarious, with countless effective one-liners, two very funny pregnant pauses, and many humorous situations. It's a challenge when your main character is not one the audience would necessarily cheer for, but the storytelling gives theatregoers enough reason to root for him. The setting for Dorothy's job is changed from a daytime soap opera to a Broadway musical for the stage adaptation. Having the show take place in current times also allows for the added depth of commenting on the man-in-a-dress situation through the lens of transgender and #MeToo movement considerations. Mr. Horn won the Tony Award for his work on the book for this show.
David Yazbek has written the music and lyrics for five Broadway shows, including The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. His quirky yet accessible music is vibrant and is well complemented by his witty and very funny wordsmithing. He has a knack for making profane lyrics seem very organic, but audiences should be aware of their existence if bringing children. For Tootsie, most of the songs echo sounds from previous Yazbek scores, with "I Won't Let You Down", "Jeff Sums It Up", and "Gone, Gone, Gone" being song highlights. Mr. Yazbek also provides a wonderful jazzy overture and entr'acte, which are delights on their own.
This non-Equity touring cast is led by Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey (and in disguise as Dorothy Michaels). Mr. Becker brings strong vocals, including an impressive falsetto, to the role, and embodies each version of his character with distinct and apt portrayals. Ashley Alexandra (Julie) makes well-suited acting choices and supplies richly textured singing. Jared David Michael Grant shows off excellent comic timing as Michael's roommate Jeff, and delivers some of the show's best material with great skill. Payton Reilly manages to humorously portray a very annoying character without being annoying herself. She also does a great job presenting some of the fastest paced songs in the modern musical theater canon. Matthew Rella (Max), Adam Du Plessis (Ron), Kathy Halenda (Rita), and Dianne B. Manaster (Fran) shine in supporting roles, and the ensemble members do well executing the very active blocking.
Tour director Dave Solomon mostly replicates Scott Ellis's original direction from Broadway, which includes smooth scene transitions and the right balance of comedy and dramatic tension. The bouncy choreography by Denis Jones includes a repeated set of steps which are described hilariously as they are danced for the show within the show. Josh Ceballos leads a superb sounding 11-piece orchestra.
David Rockwell's scenic design, as adapted by Christine Peters for the tour, provides a detailed and highly functional set covering many locales. William Ivey Long's costumes tip slightly to the theatrical rather than natural visuals, and feature bright colors and fun, mature outfits for Dorothy. The lighting by Don Holder includes several pleasing effects and is professionally rendered.
Tootsie is not an easy show to stage, both from a performer and creative perspective. This touring production does a great job of presenting the material, resulting in an entertaining show. The talented cast is praiseworthy, and most theatergoers will find the story to be hilarious and the songs to be fun and energizing.
Tootsie runs through March 19, 2023, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please call 513-621-2787 or visit cincinnati.broadway.com. For more information on the tour, visit tootsiemusical.com.