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BWW Review: Broadway Across America's TOOTSIE THE MUSICAL is On a Roll!

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Runs through this Sunday the 21st at the Hobby Center

BWW Review: Broadway Across America's TOOTSIE THE MUSICAL is On a Roll! TOOTSIE THE MUSICAL is a fast-moving funny farce, and it's the rare case when the book for a Broadway musical eclipses its songs. This show is a gigglefest in the best way, even if the concept of a man posing as a woman to get a job seems like a dated idea from 1982. Don't go expecting the movie, but do head to the theater if you are looking for a feel-good comedy that is lighter than air for a little over two hours. This is the funniest musical of the year, and Broadway Across America at the Hobby Center kicks off their latest season with a strong hairy leg in a kitten heel.


Let me get this out of the way first, TOOTSIE THE MUSICAL is not much like the movie starring Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray, and Jessica Lange save for the basic concept. They have altered the story of Michael Dorsey to have him audition as the lead for an ill-fated Broadway musical as a woman out of desperation to get work. He's a difficult actor to work with, and so he dons a disguise to land a part. What he doesn't anticipate is how being a woman will affect him and all of those around him such as his ex-girlfriend, his roommate, his new leading lady, and the rest of the cast. But perhaps most of all, he has no idea how being a woman will change him as a man. The musical dumbs down the revelations and characters from the movie in order to simplify them for a lighter genre. You have to forgive it for the lack of logic, and embrace it for the huge heart.

The biggest glaring problem for TOOTSIE THE MUSICAL is that it is no longer 1982, and the world now has a gender fluidity and sense of women that is far removed from what made the satire work so well in the film. If you look at Broadway now there have been many men who have taken on women's roles, women who have done men's parts, and pioneering transgender performers who have landed starring leads as well. This concept seems far too thin to accept that anybody would fall for a "man in a wig", or even truly care if they did clock him. This would be especially true for theatre people in a Broadway show who wouldn't even look twice.

Despite any of this, the show is funny and the cast is amazing. They set a farce tone and pace, and you'll be far too busy laughing to think about lapses in logic or gender politics. Wisely they all play this super broad, and their comic timing is incredible throughout. There is a seamless marriage of verbal one liners, comic takes, and awkward pauses that become a master class in how to do comedy right. The cast as a whole is a fierce and fabulous ensemble that knows how to work TOOTSIE to play in a big theater.

Drew Becker gets the intimidating task of taking on a Tony award winning role from Broadway, and he certainly is up to do so. He flows in and out of the Dorothy and Michael characters easily, and with so much conviction that they both seem fully realized. He's a great singer, and the show rests easily on his broad shoulders. Jared David Michael Grant takes on the roommate part, and his comic timing sparkles and elevates any scene with Becker.

The women in this show get odd beats when it comes to songs or the dated plot, but both Ashley Alexandra and Payton Reilly surpass what they are given. Alexandra is the female lead that Michael falls in love with, and she plays it all grounded and wise in contrast to what we saw from the ethereal Jessica Lange in the film version. She's the evolved woman, and she sings with a full-throated earthiness that accompanies her characterization brilliantly. Reilly in contrast plays her character completely unhinged, and allows the funny to creep into every note she plays. She's hysterical acting or singing, and the audience could not get enough of her.

David Yazbek wrote the music and lyrics, and they are fun but not quite the level of sublime genius he showed previously with THE BAND'S VISIT. He does do some wonderful "word cramming" in lyrics the likes of which exists nowhere outside of Stephen Sondheim. The Tony winning book by Robert Horn is loaded with really funny jokes that range from groaners to rolling on the floor funny. It's a tight piece that moves well, and the script is the star of TOOTSIE THE MUSICAL. Production values are well executed from capably done sets to eye pleasing costumes, but this is not a razzle dazzle show by any means. You will appreciate the punchy comedy over anything else in TOOTSIE. No felines dance around trash, and no chandeliers drop at any point.

It's interesting to see Houston audiences getting several chances this year to see a spate of Broadway shows that come from popular movies. It's a strange genre that seems to be overtaking theater, but it is one that proves financially to be a safe bet. My advice for TOOTSIE THE MUSICAL is to distance yourself from the original film, and accept they are taking a dated concept and transposing it awkwardly onto today. You are going for the exquisite comedy performances that surpass the fact that TOOTSIE has not very much to say about gender that seems substantial. It's rather quaint, but the cast and the jokes are anything but that. You're not going to walk out with revelations or singing any recognizable melody, but you will be smiling from ear to ear.


TOOTSIE THE MUSICAL runs through Sunday November 21st at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Houston. More information and tickets for the show can be found at https://houston.broadway.com/shows/tootsie/ . COVID Protocols require audience members to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test administered in the last 72 hours. Masks must be worn in the building and during the entire show.


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