Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 24, 2023

REVIEW: The Bushnell, “Tootsie”

The Bushnell, Hartford CT
through February 26, 2023
by R.E. Smith

Photo by Evan Zimmerman
Like so many recent Broadway shows, “Tootsie” is part of the “you’ve seen the old movie, now see the new musical” genre. The show’s creators, clearly recognizing that gender inequity issues have changed drastically since the 1980’s, have decided to re-focus the original story on to the world of theatre. Self-absorbed actors, ditzy showgirls, arrogant directors, down on their luck writers. . .all are fair game for this pleasantly entertaining comedy. 

And by the way, one fellow dresses up as a woman to get a part!

Drew Becker plays the Dustin Hoffman role of Michael Dorsey, an actor so dedicated to his craft that it has actually become a detriment. He saves his career (kind of), finds love, helps his friends, rights wrongs and learns important life lessons while posing as “Dorothy Michaels”.  There’s plenty of humor and energy in Becker’s performance and his vocal range and ability is impressive. We believe his performance, but the script itself does require some suspension of disbelief.

Ashley Alexandra as Julie Nichols, our “other” leading lady, has the most relatable and grounded character in the cast. She uses delicate brush strokes, in stark contrast to the broadly drawn characters surrounding her. She’s given the most “real” emotional motivation to work with and delivers on that potential through her subtle, confident presence and powerful singing voice.

They are ably assisted by 2 audience favorite characters who just happen to have the 2 most memorable songs. Payton Reilly as Michael’s frantic ex-girlfriend Stacy delivers rat-a-tat-tat comic relief in the form of “What’s Gonna Happen”, while “Jeff Sums it Up” is delivered with droll affability by Jared Michael David Grant.

David Yazbek, who did the music for “The Band’s Visit”, takes the score for an impressive musical tour across multiple styles, from the Sondheim-esk “Whaddaya Do”, the Webber-like “I Won’t Let you Down”, all helping to add fuel to the parody fire that is the “show within a show”. “Opening Number” is works equally well as a truly hummable tune and a spot-on spoof.

The whole ensemble delivers palpable high energy in their group numbers. Often acting as a snarky Greek-chorus and clearly enjoying the self-parodying choreography, one of the show's truly delightful highlights. Matthew Rella and Adam DuPlessis make the most of their smaller parts with superb comic timing and delivery. The show is rife with both clever wordplay and broad physical humor.

“Tootsie”’s parts are greater than the sum of the whole. The performances, songs, choreography, and humor are all wonderful, and make for an entertaining experience, but just like Michael Dorsey’s five o’clock shadow, the underlying narrative structure and turns don’t quite hold up to close scrutiny. But if you just sit back and enjoy the hi-jinks, you won’t be disappointed!