TOOTSIE the musical brings an old-fashioned musical to life based on the movie of the same name from 1982. The show offers up a talented cast, physical comedy, and some updates to the story, but can’t fully disguise a problematic premise under comedy, costumes, and choreography. TOOTSIE is playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre through Sunday, April 17th.
Michael Dorsey (Drew Becker) is a talented but out-of-work actor, due to his own inability to work or play well with others. He may be an insanely talented actor, but his behavior means no one will cast him. Michael is now 40 years old and hasn’t achieved the goals he made when he was younger with his longtime friend and roommate Jeff (Jared David Michael Grant) and decides he needs a new opportunity. While helping his ex-girlfriend Sandy (Payton Reilly) talk about an upcoming audition, Michael decides a makeover is needed. He becomes Dorothy Michaels and auditions for the open role of the Nurse in the new show “Juliet’s Curse”.
After securing the role he meets the talented Julie (Ashley Alexandra) who plays Juliet, and Max Van Horn (Lukas James Miller) the enthusiastic but dim reality star brought in for stunt casting. Michael, as Dorothy, then takes the show by storm and somehow changes the plot, title, star billing, setting, and gets multiple people to fall for him all while pretending to be Dorothy.
The leads are all talented, Becker as Michael has some very funny moments, especially with Grant as Jeff. Grant’s Jeff is part Cassandra and part audience stand-in, telling Michael how badly this will turn out, and how offensive his actions are, but to no avail.
Alexandra as Julie is very strong and has a fantastic voice. Miller as the dim but well-meaning reality star is very funny, and Reilly brings manic energy as the neurotic and obsessive ex-girlfriend Sandy. The ensemble is talented and has a lovely dance number that also highlights some gorgeous costumes with a fun transition by William Ivey Long.
The music by David Yazbeck the show is bouncy and funny and has fun with the especially bad songs for the show within the show Juliet’s Curse before Michael’s changes are implemented. The set design by Christine Peters and based on the original design by David Rockwell cleverly brings the New York skyline, an apartment, and even the subway to the stage in inventive ways.
All musicals depend on the suspension of disbelief – that the audience not just allows but buys in that when people have so moved they can no longer speak but sing and dance instead. As long as the magic is there audiences generally will go where the music takes them and love it – as proven by the continued existence of CATS and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
But TOOTSIE really challenges that suspension of disbelief by being incredibly problematic. The foundation of the comedy is the tired “man in a dress” trope, and you don’t need to know by looking at the program that this was put together by an almost entirely male creative team.
This is a male fantasy in a variety of ways – a straight white man in a dress is better than every trained woman of any age and took one of the few roles available in a Broadway show? Gaslighting a woman into reevaluating her sexuality? Manipulating her trust for your own personal and professional gain? Apparently, as Dorothy, whatever Michael says gets her positive feedback, success, respect, and is immediately beloved because “she” has the audacity of a mediocre white man?
Not only that, but it validates the incredibly harmful anti-trans argument by having the entire show be centered around a man pretending to be a woman to access safe spaces, and find opportunities to prey upon others for their own gains.
The writers tried to smooth it over by having it be Jeff’s main job to comment and acknowledge that it’s problematic. The show also has a director making unwanted advances on his leading lady played for laughs as well, so maybe they just don’t actually understand what is funny. So many narcissistic sociopaths in this show and so little time…
The show tries to add moments for brief apologies that don’t feel sincere and have men be the mouthpieces for feminism instead of any of the women in the show. But then the show continues to build upon it, showing they didn’t really care about the problems in the first place.
None of these things are the fault of the talented performers of the tour, who gamely step up and put on a funny and upbeat show with some strong performances in spite of the confusing and problematic material.
How to get Tickets
Catch the cast of TOOTSIE The Musical at the San Diego Civic Theatre by Broadway San Diego through April 17th, 2022. For ticket and showtime information go to www.broadwaysd.com
Vaccination and mask policy as of April 1st, 2022 – In an effort to create a safe and healthy environment for our audiences, performers, staff, and all the behind-the-scenes team members, Masks and Vaccinations are strongly recommended for all patrons attending Broadway San Diego events, until further notice.
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