“Tootsie” the musical cleverly reformulates the 1982 movie of the same name, making its protagonist Micheal Dorsey a stage actor rather than television character. Set in present day New York, its references to gender dynamics are thoroughly modern and its original songs are entertaining and well delivered by the main cast and a talented ensemble. Above all, “Tootsie” plays for laughs—jokes abound and funny character quirks are played up—though sometimes at the expense of the complicated love story between Michael and fellow actor Julie.
With its book by Robert Horn and music and lyrics by David Yazbek—who also wrote music and lyrics for “The Band’s Visit”—this touring production hits the mark for Broadway style entertainment. Sets designed by Christine Peters are lavishly detailed and easily transition from a New York cityscape to Michael’s apartment to the set of a new musical production that Michael is cast in called “Juliet’s Nurse,” in which he plays the nurse from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Except Michael (Drew Becker) gets the role of the nurse not as himself but as his alter-ego Dorothy, a formidable woman who manages to change the central love story in “Juliet’s Nurse” to involve her and an invented brother of Romeo, played by Max (Lukas James Miller), with Julie (Ashley Alexandra) playing Juliet. Soon, Michael falls for Julie—who only knows him as Dorothy—while Max comically falls for Dorothy.
Hysterics ensue, of course, aided by Michael’s droll roommate Jeff (Jared David Michael Grant), a playwright, and neurotic friend Sandy (Payton Reilly), a struggling actress with absurdly low self-esteem. Sandy’s song “What’s Gonna Happen”—a rapid-fire, anxiety-ridden account of what she just knows will happen at her audition the next day—is a study in comic timing.
Miller similarly brings an endearing brightness to the somewhat clueless Max, his physical comedy fawning over Dorothy balancing Michael’s angst over Julie. Though central to the story, the fraught relationship between Michael and Julie is relatively flat, making Max’s surprisingly hilarious wooings of Dorothy all the more welcome.
Becker’s tenor is somewhat weak as Michael but works very well for his turns as Dorothy, both in speaking and singing. Becker smoothly switches between the two characters, both in appearance and personality. When Michael observes that Dorothy is stronger than him, it rings true—as if the two are played by different actors.
Alexandra makes for a very richly voiced Julie, especially noticeable in a bar scene where Julie sings “Gone, Gone, Gone” along with a trio of the ensemble cast. However, her scenes with Micheal are relatively uninspired. Though the two are great in their respective roles—especially vocally—their scenes together are somewhat less believable.
But it’s comedy that reigns in this touring production of “Tootsie” directed by Dave Solomon, with an energetic ensemble cast of 12 singers and dancers that doesn’t quit, keeping the show’s momentum high. The main characters are in their element delivering comic lines and schtick. They also sing Yazbek’s lyrics well, which add emotional depth and even more hilarity, the highlight being Grant’s rendition of “Jeff Sums It Up,” mocking how Michael “really f*ed it up” with Julie by being Dorothy.
Jeff also initially questions how Michael can presume to take a woman’s job, and Julie later accuses Michael of not knowing what it’s like to be a woman—both valid points. But along the way, “Tootsie” is nonstop music, dance and farce, lovingly dressed in red sequins, wig and glasses.
“Tootsie” continues at Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, through June 11, with performances Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $28 to $116 and can be purchased online at SCFTA.org or by calling the box office at (714) 556-2787. Run time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission. Proof of vaccination is required; mask-wearing is optional.