Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Tootsie. The book was by Robert Horn and the music and lyrics were by David Yazbek. It was based on the story by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbert and the Columbia Pictures film. It was directed by Scott Ellis. The choreography was by Denis Jones and the music director and conductor was Andrea Grody. It was about a struggling actor named Michael Dorsey (Santino Fontana) who had been out of work for a really long time and had alienated many directors because of his strong opinions. His friend Sandy (Sarah Stiles) was auditioning for a new Broadway musical called Juliet's Curse and they were looking for a new actor to play the nurse. So Michael Dorsey decides to become his new alter-ego Dorothy Michaels and audition. He gets cast and meets Julie Nichols (Lilli Cooper) who plays Juliet and they instantly have a very strong connection, but he can't reveal his male identity or else he thinks he'll get fired. It is about identity, connection, and manipulation. I thought this show was a lot of fun and I think it has some good updates to the story.
I thought this show had a lot of really good updates, especially to the character of Julie. In the movie, Julie seems a lot more helpless, but in the musical she seems more powerful, speaks up for herself, and doesn't let societal norms pressure her into doing something she doesn't want to do. I really liked the idea in the show that a relationship between Julie and Dorothy could be possible even if they were both women. They come a lot closer to exploring gender identity than in the movie, but it is still a story of a straight man dressing in drag and manipulating a woman. But in this case the woman is more angry and less devastated and the show and Michael both recognize that she deserves her anger. Michael does still love her, so he needs to tell her why he did things and how he feels. But he doesn't expect her to just quickly get over everything. I don't know exactly why they switched the project Michael does as Dorothy from a soap opera to a musical, except that it was more convenient for people bursting into song constantly. I enjoyed the update to the lead actor character Max Van Horn (John Behlmann) because I loved his performance and thought he was hilarious. But Juliet's Curse was not always engaging. It was funny when the story was ridiculous, but it was hard to get invested in because it wasn't an episodic that was always transforming.
I love Michael's roommate Jeff (Andy Grotelueschen) and Sandy in this show. They were so hilarious and I loved all their songs. Sandy had this song, "What's Gonna Happen," that she keeps reprising that I think sums up her character perfectly, which is an adorable nervous wreck. It is a song where she hears one proposal of an idea and starts listing all of the terrible events that will follow if she does this. As it starts to escalate, the song gets faster and she gets more panicked. Eventually someone cuts her off and calms her down. She handles the speed very well; miraculously, you can still understand everything she's saying. "Jeff Sums It Up" was basically a song about exactly all the crazy ridiculous stupid things Michael has done. I liked how unabashed Jeff was about calling Michael out on all of his crap. I didn't think I could like someone in this role better than Bill Murray, but I think I did! They spent more time in the musical on his and Michael's relationship, and I think that was a really good decision because I loved their relationship and wanted even more of it. And Jeff was absolutely hilarious.
Dorothy had a song called "I Won't Let You Down," which was her audition song. It was really crazy hearing Santino Fontana singing in that higher register and doing it flawlessly so it didn't sound like mock femininity, which I was a bit worried about. I think it is hard to avoid that when your voice is not naturally that high, but he did a great job at making it sound natural and not forced. That was true of the speaking as well. I loved how he alternated between the higher and lower tones and you could hear glimpses of Michael's voice in the audition. He didn't have a single crack throughout the show even though he shifts back and forth between these voices a lot. I thought his performance of Dorothy was really well-acted and -sung. I really like Dorothy as a character. She is sweet, she's a badass, and she has very strong opinions. Michael is very opinionated as well, but he doesn't have the sweetness at first. He grows empathy throughout the show. It is weird that we still think of empathy as a female characteristic, and I am looking forward to a day when the world doesn't assign emotions to genders. But I do think that it is great that there is a case in a musical and a movie of a man learning about empathy and why it is important and that not making him weak. I don't want to give anything away about the last scene, but it almost made me cry. It was really well-acted and I loved the connection between Michael/Dorothy and Julie.
People who would like this show are people who like flawless falsetto, compelling updates, and hilarious supporting characters. I think people should go see this show before it closes here or later on Broadway. I'm excited to see how this musical will evolve when it moves to New York.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes