Review: TOOTSIE at Starlight Theatre

The musical runs through May 21.

By: May. 20, 2023
Review: TOOTSIE at Starlight Theatre
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TOOTSIE (The Musical), is a fun opening evening for the seventy-first season of Starlight Theatre at Swope Park across from the Kansas City Zoo. TOOTSIE shows us how times change over forty years. It is too bad that a rainy day and a regrettably cold evening limited the size of the opening audience.

It is difficult to turn an iconic movie into a successful musical version of itself. Tootsie (The Film) was so good the Library of Congress preserved it on the United States National Film Registry. Add the sea-change in attitudes surrounding same-sex relationships over the last forty years and this show is set up to be a very tough sell. Remarkably, TOOTSIE (The Musical) absolutely works.

Review: TOOTSIE at Starlight Theatre
An ensemble production number in TOOTSIE

Composers and playwrights have spent a lot of time over the last few decades creating musical theater pieces that mean something deep and have a point of view.

TOOTSIE (The Musical) recalls a day when an evening of live theater was plain fun. I was reminded very much IN STYLE of shows like DAMN YANKEES and PAJAMA GAME. It is nice to just enjoy.

The show revolves around Michael Dorsey (Drew Becker). Michael, a forty-year-old unemployed legitimate actor, fancies himself an ACTOR in the mold of a Constantin Stanislavski or a David Garrett. Michael is METHOD all the way, excellent on stage, but he is also a colossal pain in the butt. No one will work with him. If Michael can't work because of the enemies he has made, perhaps a re-invention will break the old mold.

Michael chooses re-invention as a middle-aged woman renamed Dorothy Michaels. Dorothy gets cast as Juliet's Nurse in a kind of strange musical imagining of ROMEO AND JULIET. Romeo dies in the first scene. Juliet (Nicole Fragala) is supposed to end up with Romeo's brother (Mathew Rella). His actor is named Max. Max is a character a lot like Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino on the Jersey Shore.

Of course, Michael can't leave well enough alone. He rewrites the play and falls head over heels for Julie. Too bad, Julie only knows Michael as a forty something chick. And there is the problem.

In certain ways, TOOTSIE is absolutely politically incorrect. Some people will have problems with the subject. TOOTSIE makes light of a guy in a dress. Cross-dressing is a hot topic on both the political left and the right.

Some on the left are sensitive when anyone makes fun of sexual orientation. Others on the opposite side of the political fence have made it a crime to discuss such a thing in schools. Hell, the Tennessee state legislature just outlawed people born biologic males from performing in a dress. Wonder what Uncle Miltie or Jonathan Winters would say?

Before you get too up in arms, please remember that the mind who first imagined Dorothy Michaels was Larry Gelbart (MASH). He also conjured Corporal Klinger, wrote for Sid Caesar, and shared the writer's room with Selma Diamond, Neil Simon, Carl Reiner, and Mel Brooks.

Review: TOOTSIE at Starlight Theatre
Payton Reilly and Drew Becker
in TOOTSIE

The book for this TOOTSIE (by Robert Horn) won the Best Musical Book Tony in 2019. The musical score for TOOTSIE (by David Yazbek) is perfectly serviceable to advance the storyline. But it probably won't end up headlining the musical songbook.

Troika Entertainment, the producer, has spent the time and the money to enable TOOTSIE (The Musical) to be a fun representative offering. Everything about this show is more than expected and the audience actually enjoys itself.

For those who want to go a little deeper, there are a few Easter eggs buried in the show. Finding them will be frosting on the cake.

This entire cast is very good.

Drew Becker is the third actor to play Michael/Dorothy in forty years. He makes Dorothy his own. Not an easy task when you are up for comparison with Dustin Hoffman. Not an easy task when you are the first tour Dorothy/Michael and the Broadway actor who played the part walked away with a Tony.

Payton Reilly is super as Sandy, Michael's neighbor down the hall and ex-girlfriend. Her "What's Gonna Happen" number flashes a bit on the "Model of the Modern Major General," but she is funny.

Jared David Michael Grant as Michael's roommate Jeff is a welcome leveling influence throughout.

Opening night featured Nicole Fragala as Julie/Juliet, Michael's love interest. It turns out that Nicole is actually the understudy Julie. Nicole was excellent in the role. I hope she continues to do well in this production and in many yet to come. She sings well, but most impressive is the way she reacts with other actors on stage.

Review: TOOTSIE at Starlight Theatre
Jared David Michael Grant
as Jeff in TOOTSIE

Tootsie continues on Saturday May 21. The weather will be improved. Sooo, pack up your politics in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile. The audience sure did tonight.

Friday night was also opening night for the new President/CEO of Starlight Theatre. She is Lindsey Rood-Clifford, a veteran of seventeen years as part of the Starlight Theatre family. We wish Lindsey well.

Former Starlight President Rich Baker can enjoy a well-earned retirement. He will continue as a consultant over the next few years.

Starlight season seventy-one Is off to a good start.

Photos Courtesy of Troika Entertainment.



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