Unstoppable: Thoughts on Tootsie – November 8, 2019

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Gender equality has always been an important issue in all aspects of society – from equal rights to equal pay, with women striving to have their voices heard and abilities (and achievements) acknowledged, both in the real world and the fictional world of film, television and theatre. Tootsie is among the many in the latter category, based on the 80’s film of the same name, currently playing at the Marquis theatre. I remember the film being a great comedy at the time, though some of its humor has not aged well in this “Me Too” Era, and I was curious to see how the musical adaptation would handle the transition from film to stage. Tickets were acquired the usual way for this time of year (thanks to the TDF ticket raffle table at the BC/EFA Flea Market).

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The plot of the show revolves around Michael Dorsey, an actor with a reputation of being difficult, despite his actual talent – his dedication to his craft has led him to be unemployable. He hatches a scheme to audition as a woman (though the impetus to this decision isn’t clearly stated), and as Dorothy Michaels, he lands a supporting role in a new Broadway musical. Complications arise when he falls for the leading lady and also finds himself (herself?) the object of a male co-star’s affection, coupled with a condescending director and a clingy ex-girlfriend.

The musical adaptation is different from the film in many ways, as the musical within a musical was not the job Michael (as Dorothy) gets – in the film it’s a soap opera – but many of the film’s elements are present, with the dated references / subplots more suitable for the present social climate. The show as a whole is an homage to a traditional musical comedy, with a fantastic score by David Yazbek. The overall scenic design has hints of the 80s in this look and set design. The cast is great, with Santino Fontana doing an amazing job toggling between his two personas, with his vocal inflections and overall mannerisms in a Tony Award worthy performance. Other standouts were Sarah Stiles as Sandy, Michael’s ex-girlfriend, whose comic timing was impeccable, and also understudy Brittany Coleman as Julie, the co-star he falls for, whose vulnerability shone through without it looking like weakness.

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The stage door was not too crowded (as it was an unusually chilly evening for November) but some of the cast came out to sign playbills/posters and pose for photos. I had my doubts about Tootsie when it was first announced as a musical, as it seems to me that in the last decade or so, almost every well-known film from the 80s and 90s were being adapted to the stage, which made me anxious about the state of “new” musicals. Granted, I’m aware that it’s a business and that the familiar brings in a potential built-in fan base, but it made me wonder about the state of original musicals. The show was enjoyable, a throwback to the classic American musical, with a message about gender equality that is mostly harmless and fun.

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