‘Tootsie’ on tour at the National Theatre is a triumph

The comedy musical based on the famous movie shines with romantic insanity.

In the 1982 movie Tootsie, unemployed actor Michael Dorsey (played by Dustin Hoffman) disguises himself as a woman and becomes soap star Dorothy Michaels. Tootsie at the National Theatre updates the film as an all-singing, all-dancing, all-laughing musical comedy.

Tootsie premiered in Chicago in 2018 and won the 2019 Tony for Best Book of a Musical on Broadway. The music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Robert Horn are inventive, hysterically funny, and beautifully synchronized. The cast is terrific. The production is handsomely mounted, with direction by Dave Solomon (original Broadway direction was by Scott Ellis). 

Center: Drew Becker as Dorothy Michaels and Lukas James Miller as Max Van Horn with cast of the national tour of ‘Tootsie.’ Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

The plot is well known to anyone who has seen the movie, and some who haven’t. Michael Dorsey (Drew Becker) is a New York actor who is perennially out of work, due to his perfectionism and argumentative personality As a tomato in a commercial, he refused to sit down because “it isn’t logical.” Sometimes such performers falsely believe that no one understands the depth of their talent. Michael doesn’t have that problem; he really is talented. But as his agent, Stan Fields (Steve Brustien), tells him, “Everyone hates you.”

His ex and close friend, Sandy (Payton Reilly), is auditioning for the part of Juliet’s Nurse in a musical winsomely entitled Juliet’s Curse (no, I’m serious). Michael, desperate for work, transforms himself into Dorothy Michaels. He wins the role with a knockout performance of the Nurse’s stirring number voicing her promise to Juliet: “I Won’t Let You Down.”

As Dorothy, Becker instinctively grasps the charm and compassion inherent in the character; his performance, like Hoffman’s, is reminiscent of Jack Lemmon’s as Daphne in the 1959 Billy Wilder classic Some Like It Hot, which Lemmon said was based on his mother. Becker is paired with a dynamite Juliet in Ashley Alexandra. As the young actress, Julie Nichols, Alexandra serenades Dorothy with the gently tuneful “There Was John,” recounting her long-ago choice of ambition over love. 

Payton Reilly as Sandy Lester; Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey and Ashley Alexandra as Julie Nichols; and Jared David Michael Grant as Jeff Slater in the national tour of ‘Tootsie.’ Photos by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Payton Reilly’s Sandy is frighteningly insecure, but she executes her dizzyingly difficult opening number, “What’s Gonna Happen,” with the precision of an ice skater in the dance portion of the Olympics. Jared David Michael Grant as Michael’s bestie, Jeff Slater, has a jovial, outgoing style; and as a friend, he’s not afraid to tell Michael when he has screwed up, as in his epic soliloquy, “Jeff Sums It Up.”

Ashley Alexandra as Julie Nichols in the national tour of ‘Tootsie.’ Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Dorothy attracts the romantic interest of the actor who plays Romeo’s brother, Craig (no, really), Max Van Horn (Lukas James Miller). He is a younger man who cannot for the life of him understand why he is drawn to someone so old (he mentions it frequently). Dorothy takes it with good humor (perhaps age has given her wisdom), and the two of them have some strikingly comic scenes together, which I will not ruin for you by describing.

The dynamic Kathy Halenda is excellent as the ultimate Broadway producer Rita Marshall. The whirlwind Dorothy modernizes Juliet’s Curse, dropping the Elizabethan swords and gowns and changing the period to the 1950s. The play becomes Juliet’s Nurse; and Craig, like the actor who plays him, falls for the Nurse instead of for Juliet. The director character, Ron Carlisle (Adam du Plessis), is driven to therapy in typical Manhattan fashion by this dramaturgical journey through madness.

With original Broadway choreography by Denis Jones, tour scenic design by Christine Peters (original scenic design for Broadway was by David Rockwell), lighting design by Donald Holder, sound design by Brian Ronan, and costume design by William Ivey Long, Tootsie is a triumph.

The Ensemble are Leyla Ali, Connor Alston, Darius Aushay, Michael Bingham, Kyra Christopher, Delaney Gold,  Danielle J.S. Gordon, Maverick Hiu, Dominique Kempf, Marquez Linder,  Lucy Panush, and Alec Ruiz.

Tootsie shines with romantic insanity, reminding us that love, like musical comedy, belongs to us all.

Running Time: Approximately two hours 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

Tootsie plays through December 12, 2021, at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC. Tickets ($65–$110) are available to purchase online. There is also a $25 digital lottery.

COVID Safety: The National Theatre vaccination and masking policies are here.

CREDITS

Book by Robert Horn
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek
Based on the story by DON McGUIRE and LARRY GELBART and the COLUMBIA PICTURES motion picture produced by PUNCH PRODUCTIONS and starring DUSTIN HOFFMAN Broadway Choreography by DENIS JONES
Directed by DAVE SOLOMON
Original Broadway Direction by SCOTT ELLIS

CAST
Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels: Drew Becker
Julie Nichols: Ashley Alexandra
Sandy Lester: Payton Reilly
Max Van Horn: Lukas James Miller
Jeff Slater: Jared David Michael Grant
Rita Marshall: Kathy Halenda
Stan Fields: Steve Brustien
Ron Carlisle: Adam du Plessis
Carl: Alec Ruiz
Stuart: Connor Alston
Suzie: Dominique Kempf
Gone Female Trio: Leyla Ali, Delaney Gold, Dominique Kempf
Ensemble: Leyla Ali, Connor Alston, Darius Aushay, Michael Bingham, Kyra Christopher, Delaney Gold, Danielle J.S. Gordon, Maverick Hiu, Dominique Kempf, Marquez Linder, Lucy Panush, Alec Ruiz
Swings: Lexi Baldachino, Ashton Lambert
Dance Captain: Lexi Baldachino
Assistant Dance Captain: Ashton Lambert   

CREATIVE TEAM
Music & Lyrics: David Yazbek
Book: Robert Horn
Director: Dave Solomon
Original Broadway Director: Scott Ellis
Broadway Choreography: Denis Jones
Supervising Music Director, Vocal & Incidental Arrangements: Andrea Grody
Music Coordinator: Talitha Fehr
Dance Arrangements: David Chase
Orchestrations: Simon Hale
Music Supervisor: David Sharenow
Music Director: Andrew David Sotomayor
Original Scenic Design for Broadway: David Rockwell
Tour Scenic Design: Christine Peters
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Costume Coordinator: Christopher Vergara
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Brian Ronan
Hair & Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Make-Up Design: Angela Avallone

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Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCMTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She has an extensive background in theater. Her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied Classics and English at Barnard and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe. Her father, Carleton Jones, long-time real estate editor and features writer for the Baltimore Sun, inspired her to become a writer.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The show is blatantly transphobic, including multiple sexist jokes that might have played in the 80s but are rightly recognized today as deeply offensive. There were protests in NY. I can’t believe you’d review the show without addressing any of that. Shameful.

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