Tootsie at PPAC Won’t Let You Down

by Kimberly Rau

The Tony Award-Winning musical adaptation of “Tootsie” is at the Providence Performing Arts Center through Sunday. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of (or even familiar with) the 1982 film starring Dustin Hoffman, this is one show that won’t disappoint you.

Michael Dorsey a 40-year-old actor who is sick and tired of earning a living as a waiter, and being rejected at auditions—never getting the break he thinks he deserves. At his 40th birthday, he realizes that he hasn’t achieved any of his goals (because his best friend has kept a list for reference). In fact, he can’t even keep a relationship (not even with the hilariously quirky Sandy). Desperate for a change, he is inspired to audition for a role Sandy has in her sights, attending the audition in drag as Dorothy Michaels. Somehow, he is immediately cast in a supporting role.

With the help of his best friend and roommate Jeff, Dorothy changes Michael’s luck and career—that is, after Jeff tries to talk some sense into Michael, reminding him that he really has no right to pretend to be a woman for his own personal gain when he is a cisgender man. Michael-as-Dorothy doesn’t want to hear it. He’s finally in a play that’s headed for Broadway. Dorothy manages to get the cast behind “her,” change the plot of a terrible play to make it a hit, and become the lead. Oh, and Michael manages to fall in love with co-star Julie. She returns the feeling, except she’s in love with Dorothy, not Michael…and so is one of the male leads in the show. As expected, life-lessons, love-lessons, and comedic antics ensue as Michael/Dorothy navigates his life as a female actor in a world that still has a long way to go.

Under the direction of Dave Solomon, “Tootsie” goes from fun show to hit. The chemistry between the cast feels both familiar and fresh, particularly between Michael (Drew Becker), Jeff (understudy Matt Kurzyniec in this performance) and Sandy (Peyton Reilly). All three have a great handle on comedic timing, making the scenes between any combination of the three uproariously funny. Leading-lady-with-a-heart-of-gold Julie is played to perfection by Ashley Alexandra. Max, a reality star turned stage actor, has great passion for his work, and an inverse number of IQ points. Matthew Rella takes that role and makes the most of it, stealing just about every scene he’s in.

While some of the plot points in the 1982 film would have been understandably cringe-worthy by today’s standards, the musical manages to address those topics in a respectful manner while infusing lots of humor, witty dialogue, and a slew of catchy numbers. If you need a laugh, this is the show to see. You’re pretty much guaranteed to leave in a better mood than when you came in.

“Tootsie” runs through Sunday, Oct. 30, at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at ppacri.org or by calling 401.421.2787. Masks are optional.