After a great dinner at my favorite Korean BBQ place In L.A., we headed over to the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood to catch an early evening performance of TOOTSIE, The Musical. I guess you could say I went from the sublime to the ridiculous so large were the differences between these shows. For those couple of people who never saw the film TOOTSIE, here’s a brief recap. Michael Dorsey is an out-of-work actor who has arrived on many a casting agents blacklist due to his growing reputation for being difficult to work with. Even his agent fires him. So, with no one hiring him he decides to become someone else…..Dorothy Michaels. Before you can say “Act II,” Dorothy is on her way to becoming a major Broadway Musical star. This is a major departure from the film where he becomes a soap opera star. But it certainly makes it easier to squeeze in a big musical number here and there. Complications and mayhem involving quick changes from Michael to Dorothy and vice versa ensue with Michael and his girlfriend, Michael and his agent, Michael and his new crush, who knows him only as Dorothy, Michael and….well you get the idea.
Some of the changes work for the show while others feel arbitrary and add little or nothing to the story. When the original film came out, it was in a time before #METOO and where certain improprieties were tacitly accepted or, at worst, just not talked about. The musical version with its updated book by Robert Horn and a score by David Yazbek does make a bow towards today’s attitudes but doesn’t really go far enough. Dorothy gives a voice to what women must accept in order to work in what is still mostly a man’s world. But her statements seem to go unheeded as there are apparently no retributions to be made by the transgressors. The balance of roles has also been somewhat altered. Sandy, Michael’s girlfriend, after a great start with the uproarious “What’s Gonna Happen,” almost disappears. Michael’s roomie, Jeff Slater, plays a more important role in the story than before. His second act number, “Jeff Sums It UP,” is a funny synopsis of all the things Michael has screwed up so far. As Jeff feels he is about to make another major oops, he invites himself along to watch firsthand as it happens and so is in much more of the act than he was in the film. The cast is a mixed bag. Coming off the best are Payton Reilly as Sandy Lester, Michael’s girlfriend and Steve Brustein as Jeff Slater, Michael’s down-to-earth roommate. As just mentioned, their solo numbers are comedic highlights of the show. Drew Becker creates a strong and funny Dorothy, as she should be. But sadly, his Michael Dorsey is just bland. The occasional fire we see from him is limited to his confrontations with a director and his agent. The minute he leaves those scenes, Becker’s Michael is totally ‘meh.’ Playing a boring individual does not mean you have to bore the audience. If he could direct some of the energy he puts into Dorothy into his Michael, the play would be far better off. As it is now, it is mostly, like Michael, bland. The score by the usually wonderful David Yazbek has a couple of islands of strong numbers surrounded by a sea of mostly forgettable ones. The sets are like a very low-end version of the Broadway sets. Much of the details of the original set are replaced with broader strokes making the set fall right in line with the ‘bland’ description. Except for a couple of Dorothy’s outfits, the wardrobe also bears the tag of bland. It’s not that the show is terrible, it’s not. But it’s also not really good either. The direction by Dave Solomon based on the original direction of Scott Ellis falls right in line with the rest of the production. It was serviceable with a couple of moments where things really clicked only to return to its original state of blandness all too quickly.
After travelling on the magnificent road to Hell and back in the afternoon, I had hoped to find TOOTSIE to be a really funny, more traditionally styled musical. All I can say is that, for the most part, it was nice.
TOOTSIE is playing at the Dolby Theatre through May 15, 2022 before moving to the Orange County Performing Arts Center from May 31 – June 12, 2022.