As a reviewer, I feel it’s my responsibility to be upfront with any original sin that may influence your decision to see a particular show. Closer followers of Broadway know that when “Tootsie” debuted, it had its share of critics for a host of reasons. I fall somewhere in the middle of most of them, but my largest criticism of the show is potentially an existential one.
First, I know the musical is not the movie, but since the movie premiered in 1982, society has progressed significantly when it comes to thinking about diversity and equity in the workplace. “Tootsie,” the musical, runs head first into that milieu, but then chooses to dance around the issue and never really fully addresses it.
It’s not so much the cross-dressing of the main character…it’s that the act of cross-dressing to deceptively take a women’s role on the stage is unforgivable. That makes the main character, Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, essentially unredeemable. That’s the original sin and it makes me wonder why I’m watching a musical comedy where I am never going to be invested in a positive outcome for the protagonist.
The history of theater is full of deception, even cross-dressing, but the sexism and misogyny of Tootsie’s main character is just too central a flaw to overlook. When the main character is so unlikeable, it weighs down the rest of the show. Which is a shame, because there actually are some great performances in Tootsie, even from Drew Becker, who brought Michael/Dorothy to life.
Okay. Now that I’ve got that on the table, we can proceed to the rest of the review.
An actual live Broadway touring show arrived in Orlando this week. Even before the overture for “Tootsie” began, the crowd at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts was buzzing with excitement at even the taste of a return to normalcy.
Audience members had to show proof of vaccine or a recent negative COVID-19 test in order to enter the Dr Phillips Center, and once inside, masks were required unless actively eating or drinking. The staff was very efficient at the screening process, and soon patrons were filing into the Walt Disney Theater with playbills and maybe a refreshment or two in hand.
“Tootsie” is a two act musical that follows aspiring Broadway actor Michael Dorsey. Michael believes he has the talent and qualities needed to land leading roles, but his attitude gets in the way. In an act of desperation, Michael Dorsey becomes Dorothy Michaels and he auditions for, and lands, the role of a female nurse in a musical continuing the story of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet.”
As you can guess, there are a long list of complications that arise from Michael’s deception and Dorothy’s success.
The first act runs just a tad long and the second act is definitely non-traditional. The score by David Yazbek is strong, but it’s not the sort of musical where you will leave humming any of the musical numbers. You will find a lot of humor in the lyrics, and the show’s physical comedy. You just won’t find a lot of heart.
One of the show’s best performances comes from Jared David Michael Grant who plays Jeff Slater, Michael’s longtime friend and roommate who is himself, an aspiring playwright with his own failure to find success. Grant deserves, and gets, the biggest laughs of the show for “Jeff Sums It Up,” his I-told-you-so song in the second act, and for his oftentimes questionable support of his friend.
Lucas James Millar also brought considerable chops in the physical comedy department to the role of Max Van Horn, the square peg in the love triangle that is Michael, Dorothy, and Julie.
Every character in “Tootsie” has a flaw: Julie is so devoted to her acting career she has no friends; Jeff is a playwright, but has yet to produce an actual script; the director is a misogynistic jerk; the producer unapologetically rich, etc… and there’s Michael as unredeemable as ever, right up until the show’s final scene.
I won’t spoil the ending for you. I will tell you that the show received a standing ovation from the opening night Orlando audience. So take this review with a grain of salt. Your mileage may vary as they say.
“Tootsie” the comedy musical has performances nightly through November 7 in the Walt Disney Theater at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, visit DrPhillipsCenter.org.
Disclaimer: CSO received tickets for review purposes. As always the opinion of the writer is honest, and their own.
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