Taking a chance with Tootsie

Student blogger Owen Fitzpatrick returns to give us his take on Tootsie, playing September 29 – October 2 at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Why now?

Whenever I see a remake or a reboot, that’s the question that first crosses my mind. “Tootsie” was a smash movie from 1982, but without question, the world has changed tremendously. With 11 Tony nominations and two wins, critics agree that the production is a comedic hit. But why in 2019, and now touring in 2022, a whole 40 years later, was it time for a remake of this film on the stage?

Like the original production, Tootsie is a show within a show. In the movie, Michael, the difficult, self-sabotaging actor dressed in drag to escape his own horrible industry reputation that rendered him unemployable and, posing as a woman named Dorothy, gains a part in a popular soap opera. In the play, Michael as Dorothy gains a part in a musical theater production. I adit that I love the show within the show. As a member of the audience, it allows us insight and behind the scenes “access,” however illusory to the production. Here at The Hanover Theatre, we’ve enjoyed “The Play that Goes Wrong” and “Something Rotten,” which both followed this arc. Truly, with Tootsie’s physical and punch-line comedy, we are about to see the equivalent of a “sit-com” come alive on the stage. 

The play has been modernized from the 1982 film in a number of ways, such as leaving out misogynistic/men-know-best lines that would have been accepted at face-value by most in 1982. The biggest change, however, was to the role of Julie. Modern audiences would have dismissed Julie’s wilted flower of a character as weak. The musical’s Julie is strong and career-focused and when she develops feelings for Michael/Dorothy, she welcomes the possibility of a same-sex relationship rather than recoil. 

I was excited for the music in this show when I learned that the same composer behind the incredible, The Band’s Visit wrote the score. David Yazbek greets this show, however, with more of a classic Broadway zip-zazz rhythm. From the expert theater musicality seen in The Band’s Visit, I expect a more serious reflective note in his power ballads that has a tendency to  turn cheesy in other shows (I’m looking at you, Margaritaville).

Modern critics will of course question the gender politics involved in the show. Did the writer, Robert Horn, go far enough with teachable audience moments and the plot’s inherent challenges? Why are straight men, once again, telling this story from their lens rather than someone from the trans community? These are gigantic heels to fill. The best plan for audiences is to look for a “person” who becomes a better version of themselves through acting, not necessarily because a man became or tried to personify his version of a “woman.” The Nurse’s role Michael is asked to play is kinder, more open, and more insightful than he is, as a person. He is more fulfilled in every level of his life – personally, professionally and soulfully. He reframes his answer to the narrative, ”who am I” with more powerful adjectives. Learning and facing the implications of our own behavior (let’s face it, Michael starts off as a total jerk) is one of life’s most important growth trajectories. 

I’m looking forward to seeing Tootsie with my family at The Hanover Theatre. See you at the Theatre!

Owen Fitzpatrick