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Review: TOOTSIE at Capital One Hall

Review: TOOTSIE at Capital One Hall

A star, Drew Becker, is born.

Adapting successful films into Broadway musicals can be fraught (and, in the cases of Carrie and La Strada, fraughter than we thought), but Robert Horn's and David Yazbek's 2019 Tootsie is the very joyful opposite of fraught. Horn's Tony-winning book simply shifts the title character's gig from TV soap to theatre and changes little else: musical comedy, Sawyer, the most glorious words in the English language. Thus, Tootsie joins the canon of The Backstage Musical right up there with Kiss Me Kate, A Chorus Line, The Producers, Something Rotten, and 42nd Street itself. There's no business like show business.

This production, returning to the DMV with an emphasis on the latter, stars in the title role Drew Becker whose rock-solid singing technique enables him to cross registers with absolute ease. Shout out to the professors at Shenandoah Conservatory where he trained. Ashley Alexandra is a fine singer too. As Julie, Dorothy Michaels' co-star, she has no trouble changing styles frequently: torchy one minute, production number the next. Payton Reilly makes each of the three versions of "What's Gonna Happen?" that her character Sandy sings fit its moment in the show. Unfortunately she, Dianna Manaster (as Michael Dorsey's agent), Adam DuPlessis (everybody's director), and Matthew Rella (Max Van Horn, a male brunette version of the Dumb Blonde) seem to have been directed (Dave Solomon) as if they were in a farce. Tootsie isn't farce; its ironic realism about how difficult it is to be a woman and to be an actor is sober and true along with being comedy. So their exaggerated line readings jolt and distract. Becker never camps, and that's why he's such a standout--cracking an audience up one minute and moving them the next. Also effective and funny, veteran Kathy Halenda whose turn as the tough-cookie producer comes from a generation of liberated women who did the right thing without caring what others thought of them for doing so.

The ensemble has a slew of fun things to do and does them all well. Top of the list is a number called "The Most Important Night of My Life" which reveals the variety of purgatories actors endure on the eve of an opening night. Denis Jones' choreography for them physicalizes the thought script of another openin', another show. And they get to wear, dance in, and flaunt six-time Tony-winner William Ivey Long's fabulous costumes. The ensemble also helps drive scenic elements around the stage. Christine Peters' ingenious triptychs change locations with ease but also with a tremendous amount of decorative detail. Donald Holder's lighting design serves well enough. This may just have been a mis-hung Varilite, but in scenes set in a New York subway car, if the lights outside the car go up and down rather than side to side, we're in trouble. Brian Ronan's sound design stressed balance, so the band never overpowered the singers, and the dialogue sounded just right.

David Yazbek has been writing for Broadway for more than 20 years; he's the master of the reprise and of narrative songs which enable a character to provide exposition while singing. Remarkably, there still is no such thing as a "David Yazbek" song--The Full Monty doesn't sound like Tootsie, and absolutely nothing sounds like The Band's Visit. What Yazbek so skillfully does is guarantee that the songs really work for and suit the times/places/settings they're in and the characters who sing them. So if you missed this production at the National grab it at Capital One Hall, across the street from the McLean Metro station, through November 27. As Ed Sullivan once said, it's a really big show.

Photo Credit: Evan Zimmerman

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