“Tootsie” Is A Joyful If Dated Celebration of Show Business

Based on the 1982 movie, the musical Tootsie, which is currently playing at the Kravis Center, actually might be one of the more interesting musicals I’ve seen recently, or at least a more nuanced one than I might’ve at first expected given the rather ridiculous central premise. After having alienated every director in town with his difficult behavior, flailing actor Michael Dorsey takes a fairly desperate tactiche creates a female alter ego, Dorothy Michaels, who gives him a chance to start over and is an improbable, immediate success. 

In this adaptation, that success comes in the form of a role in a musical that his intermittently-significant other Sandy had been turned down from, as opposed to a soap opera role in the original. This allows the musical to engage in some marvelously amusing meta humor, which is made even funnier by the fact that the plot of the in-show musical, a revamp of Romeo and Juliet, vaguely resembles that of a musical called And Juliet currently running on Broadway. I was also amused by the plethora of witty one liners and show-business jokes sprinkled throughout the proceedings, like a classic acting warm up sung in the lyrics of one number.

Other comedic highlights include “What’s Gonna Happen”, a hysterical rant by Sandy about her failing acting career, and an act 2 song called “Jeff Sums It Up”, which is delivered by Michael’s roommate and could probably be more accurately entitled according to its profane refrain. Then there’s plenty more humor to be found in the romance between Dorothy/Michael and his scene partner Julie, such as when Julie notes that she sees Dorothy as the sister she never had when it’s clear Michael’s feelings for her are anything but sisterly. 

Though I did find the first act over-long, I found the show overall quite consistently entertaining, and a brilliant cast somewhat more diverse than the film’s injected substantial star power into the proceedings. Thus, I suppose the only major issue to note regarding this particular show is its gender politics, with some people from the trans community having suggested that the fact that the show’s central joke is a man masquerading as a woman is fundamentally transphobic.

Of course, while it isn’t really up to me to serve as an authority on this matter as a cis-gender woman, I did find that none of Tootsie’s mockery felt particularly mean-spirited, with the jokes coming not from the fact that Michael was an unbelievable woman but from the fact that he was pretending to be a woman for personal gain without actually identifying as one. In fact, the in-universe success of his alter ego even seems to attest to the fact that someone assigned male at birth can make a pretty kickass leading lady! 

While I’d also argue that a truly modern Tootsie might feature, for instance, Michael realizing that how much he enjoyed inhabiting this alter ego might indicate something about his own place on the gender-fluid spectrum, I’d still argue that in the scheme of things the show seemed relatively harmless. So, if you want to enjoy a cheesy but well-performed musical theatre escapade this weekend, you may want to check out Tootsie before it moves on this February 12!

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