Sidelined by the pandemic, “Tootsie” ‘s 1st nationwide tour has finally arrived at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore and will run until December 5, 2021. Based on the 1982 film of the same name, this musical – featuring music and lyrics by David Yazbeck and a book by Robert Horn – has been nominated for numerous awards and won several, including two Tonys in 2019. It tells the story of an intense and struggling actor, Michael Dorsey (Drew Becker), who turns 40 with little success. He has a reputation for being very difficult, resulting in a series of rejections. In desperation, he dresses up as a woman to audition for a role in an upcoming cheesy Broadway musical. Very loosely based on “Romeo and Juliet”, it is ultimately called “Juliet’s Nurse” thanks to the contribution of “Dorothy” (in the film version, the role was a role in a soap opera).
For a good evening of escape and laughter, “Tootsie” is up to the task.
The musical doesn’t have the same emotional depth and impact as the movie almost 40 years ago because it’s not a literal translation of the story and the world has changed so much. There is more acceptance of the fluidity of genres and the #metoo movement, although we still have a long way to go. The issue of a male actor playing a female role is touched on briefly, so the message is a bit tricky in today’s environment. The writers have chosen to make it a love letter to the theater while affectionately embracing its stereotypes. It’s big and vibrant and is reminiscent of an old-school musical with soaring songs and dance numbers, despite contemporary updates. Satire is probably best illustrated by the director (a very funny Adam du Plessis in the pretentious and more benign role of Ron Carlisle) explaining and performing the choreography in one act (recalling a similar scene with Robin Williams in “The Birdcage.” )
While the Drew Becker has an incredible lineup and does a solid job as Michael / Dorothy, it’s the supporting characters that really give the show its shine. Ashley Alexandra is a joy as Julie / Juliet, Michael’s love interest, bringing emotional depth to the role and possessing a stunning voice (especially in the funky and R&B style “Gone, Gone, Gone.”) Lukas James Miller is a hoot like Max Van Horn (and Romeo’s brother Craig in “Juliet’s Nurse,” a soft but weak light bulb who recently appeared on a “bachelor” reality show. Apologies are made to show off her bare chest and her crush on much older Dorothy is endearing. As Sandy, Michael’s insecure ex-girlfriend, Payton Reilly is a stage thief, especially in her signature number that picks up throughout the series as she always expects the worst in the fast paced “What’s Gonna Happen” – think “(Not) Getting Married Today” from the late Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.” As Jeff, Jared David Michael Grant is wonderful as c more discreet and slyly funny ontrepoint at Michael’s intensity. Kathy Halenda as Rita Marshall, the producer and wealthy widow who gives Dorothy a chance, and Steve Brustein, as Michael’s agent, give some great comedic tricks.
Another great asset is that this road show does not skimp on the value of the production. The set, designed by Christine Peters for the tour, features beautiful sets and settings that, in one case, cleverly range from two structures depicting New York City skyscrapers to an opening to a full-fledged apartment.
Director Dave Solomon keeps the pace fast and fun. There are so many laughing moments (even in “Jeff Sums It Up,” full of the “F” word and accompanying hand gestures). For a good evening of escape and laughter, “Tootsie” is up to the task.
Duration: 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Notice: language for adults.
“Tootsie” runs through December 5, 2021 at the Hippodrome Baltimore Theater at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201. For more information and tickets, click here. To know the sanitary protocols, click here. For more information on the next Hippodrome season, click here.