Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Michael Dorsey is a frustrated New York City actor who just turned 40 and can't seem to find a single acting gig. Dorsey is talented, but he's also arrogant, temperamental, destructive, and difficult to work with. His agent tells him that no one will hire him. So, when Michael's friend Sandy is up for the role of Juliet's Nurse in a musical sequel to Romeo and Juliet, but doesn't get the part, Michael decides to put on a dress and wig and, as "Dorothy Michaels," audition himself. Not only does he land the role but he also discovers a sense of empowerment as Dorothy that he never experienced as Michael. He also finds himself falling in love with Julie, his leading lady. Can Michael find a way to be truthful with Julie and the people around him, while helping to improve the quality of the show they are all in, as he continually lies to them about who he really is?
The musical makes several changes to the plot of the 40-year-old film, including updating the time period to the present, but, fortunately, keeps the somewhat ambiguous and anti-climactic ending from the film instead of adding in a happy ending. In the film, Michael landed a roll on a TV soap opera, but for the stage version it's been changed to a Broadway musical. There have also been a few changes made to the supporting characters and a few minor changes to the story but, for the most part, the funny moments from the film are intact in Horn's script along with many new ones that tie into the musical within the musical. Horn also adds a lovely sense of discovery about female relationships that Michael learns when he's Dorothy. His epiphany that "women listen to each other" sets him on a journey of recognition that makes him a better man while also standing up for the women around him, which is clearer and stronger here than in the film.
Yazbek's score is bouncy and bright, with a few repetitive themes and hooks that you'll most likely find yourself humming the next day, but it is lacking in creating any truly special solos for Michael or any other knock-out songs for the other characters that I believe will become musical theatre standards. It's somewhat disappointing, especially since the last show at Gammage was The Band's Visit, which Yazbek won the Tony for, that the songs aren't on the level of the scores for the other movie adaptations Yazbek wrote, including The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and even his flop show, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Also, while it is mentioned that Michael has taken a prime part away from a qualified female actress, there isn't much else that addresses that hot topic issue, except for a few comments about salary parity. If this truly happened today, with a man putting on a dress, pretending to be a female actress, and becoming a star, the incident would surely start a social media war. But this is a farcical musical comedy after all, so, while the show does bring up the point, it moves on without having any clear answers about it. Also, just like in the film, there are a few plot points that are laughable, including there being nothing said about where Michael got the clothing or wig for his audition, how he's so immediately knowledgeable about playing a woman, or how he's able to just walk into an audition for a Broadway musical.
Under Dave Solomon's crisp direction (the original Broadway direction was by Scott Ellis), Drew Becker does an excellent job as both Michael and Dorothy, creating two unique and distinct individuals. Becker's Dorothy oozes charm and compassion. It's nice to see how Becker's Dorothy realizes how to use those charms to interject changes into Juliet's Curse and how people listen to his suggestions when he's Dorothy when they don't listen to him when he's Michael. With a bright singing voice and a truthful performance infused with empathy, Ashley Alexandra is wonderful as Julie. The scenes Becker and Alexandra share together are some of the most honest and moving ones in the show.
Jared David Michael Grant gets big laughs as Michael's roommate and best friend Jeff, and Payton Reilly is humorous as Michael's needy and insecure friend, fellow actor, and ex-girlfriend Sandy. Their very funny solos, "Jeff Sums It Up," in which Jeff recounts in detail how Michael has screwed things up, and "What's Gonna Happen," in which Sandy panics about all of the bad things she predicts are going to happen to her, are crowd pleasers.
Lukas James Miller is fun as the dim-witted, younger co-star in the show within a show, Max Van Horn, who is a reality-TV star the producers cast to have a "name." Miller manages to provide nice layers for this feeble-minded young man, especially in how he is shocked that he's fallen for someone older, a fact he repeatedly mentions to Dorothy with well-delivered comic timing. Adam du Plessis' portrayal of the sexist and pompous director of the show, Ron Carlisle, is a bit of a caricature but it works. The scenes in which Dorothy calls him out on his behavior are well acted by both. Kathy Halenda is fun as Rita Marshall, the producer of Juliet's Nurse who sees something in Dorothy that inspires her, and Steve Brustien provides a couple of pops of humor with good comic timing as Michael's agent Stan Fields.
Denis Jones' Tony-nominated choreography is fun, varied, and very impressive. The tour scenic design by Christine Peters (modeled on David Rockwell's original scenic design for Broadway) is bright and colorful, with two large rotating pieces that open up to reveal the interior of Michael and Jeff's apartment. From gaudy to gorgeous, William Ivey Long's costumes are character and period appropriate, with some lovey dresses for Dorothy. The lighting design by Donald Holder delivers some lovely stage images. Brian Ronan's sound design is fine, with a few of the fast-paced lyrics being lost in the large Gammage venue.
Tootsie may not address modern-day workforce sexism issues the way you'd think a show like this would, and the score may be lacking, but the book is smart and the national tour cast is very good, which results in many crowd-pleasing moments. It is also very funny.
Tootsie runs through March 20, 2022, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.asugammage.com or call 480-965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit tootsiemusical.com.
Book: Robert Horn