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BWW Review: TOOTSIE at The National Theatre

Exceptionally good intentions and flashes of show-biz brio

BWW Review: TOOTSIE at The National Theatre
The cast of the U.S. National Tour of Tootsie.
Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

The musical Tootsie, now playing at the National Theater in Washington, DC, has exceptionally good intentions and flashes of show-biz brio but it tries to do too many disparate things at once. Of course, the cultural zeitgeist of the brilliant film is pervasive in the "mind's eye" but that should ideally be of little concern with a musical that veers into making differing choices appropriate for the stage.

It is never noticeably clear, however, if the stage story is mainstream, edgy, satiric, sentimental, full of broad physical comedy or simply making social commentary. As a result, there is no consistent tone with which to relate or empathize with at times, but the enthusiasm of the cast and several wonderful ensemble numbers keep things very lively and sprightly.

In this touring production with Direction by Dave Solomon and Book by Robert Horn, there is humor aplenty, but it is sometimes mired down in nebulous comic pacing and timing-lines occasionally fall flat, are shouted or are indecipherable to the ear. Precise comic timing is essential to a show such as Tootsie.

As it is now, the show is well worth seeing for relevant themes themes, zippy ensemble numbers, and a wonderful lead performance----all it needs is stronger comic tuning.

Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels helps to keep this show afloat with a natural unstudied air as the struggling actor Michael. Mr. Becker utilizes a very bold interpretation that stresses the dignity of the Dorothy Michaels character. Mr. Becker's singing is sensitively aligned with the demands of the material. From the strong-willed "I Won't Let You Down" to the introspective and soul-searching "Talk to Me Dorothy", Mr. Becker made the transition from the male struggling actor to the female character with aplomb and humor. Mr. Becker was the strong anchor for this show.

The esteemed David Yazbek's (The Band's Visit, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Full Monty) music and lyrics are by turns zany, satiric, and ear-catching but they need to be interpreted with nuance and skill. "Jeff Sums It Up" was an amusing number and Jared David Michael Grant (as best friend Jeff) displayed a very genial charm throughout, but the words were not always decipherable when singing some lyrics and the performance never varies in delivery.

Especially memorable in the score was the melodic and mesmerizing "Who Are You?", the angst-ridden "Whaddya Do" (as Michael ruminates with alternating does of despair and inspiration) and the vigorous and innovatively choreographed "The Most Important Night of My Life".

A tip of the hat to Orchestrator Simon Hale, Music Supervisor Dean Sharenow, and Music Director Andrew David Sotomayor.

Payton Reilly (as Michael's friend Sandy) was a commanding presence onstage and sang beautifully with the requisite comic force needed but often sacrificed an endearing neurotic quality for an abrasive and monotone yelling ---as in in her solo "What's Gonna Happen."

Ashley Alexandra offered a solid portrayal of Julie Nichols in a very demanding role that requires her to be questioning and sensitive. Ms. Nichols was remarkably effective in the song "Gone, Gone, Gone" and in the engaging duet with Michael entitled "Who Are You?".

As Rita Marshall, Kathy Halenda "knocks it out of the park" with a feisty and impeccably timed virtuosic piece of comic playing. Ms. Halenda took crisp command of the amusing "I Like What She's Doing".

Lukas James Miller as the narcissistic Max Van Horn delivered a comic performance of visceral force and finely tuned comic timing throughout the show. Mr. Miller especially triumphed as he thought about "This Thing."

Steve Brustien as Stan Fields and Adam du Plessis as Ron Carlisle delivered solid support.

Choreography by Denis Jones was full of excitement and unexpected surprises specifically in the "Opening Number" and "Arrivederci!". Fast-paced and colorful staging was prevalent. Dance Captain Lexi Baldachino and Assistant Dance Captain Ashton Lambert must be commended.

Lighting Design by Donald Holder was professional and probingly direct as needed for the tone of the show.

The ambience of urban freneticism is thankfully very present in the Scenic Design by David Rockwell---New York skylines and cityscapes turn into a NYC apartment and a theater setting with briskly creative efficiency. Costumes by William Ivey Long also add needed zip and sparkle to the proceedings.

Gender-bending musicals such as La Cage Aux Folles and Sugar have been entertaining audiences for years and the comedy musical Tootsie should do the same. For an evening of diversion and escape----do not miss Tootsie.

Running Time: Two Hours and thirty-five minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Tootsie was reviewed at the National Theater located at 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (in downtown Washington D.C.) on December 7, 2021 at 7:30pm. The run continues Wednesday, December 8, 2021 at 7:30pm, Thursday, December 9, 2021 at 7:30pm, Friday December 10, 2021 at 7:30pm, Saturday December 11, 20121 at 2pm, Saturday, December 11, 2021 at 7:30pm, Sunday, December 12, 2021 at 2:00pm and Sunday, December 12, 2021 at 7:30pm. For tickets go online at Broadwayatthenational.com



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From This Author - David Friscic