By Jan Sjostrom
Tootsie packs more punchlines into a scene than the Brightline high-speed train chews up miles at top speed. The hit 1982 movie starring Dustin Hoffman has undergone a makeover in the musical playing at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
The story has been transposed from the movie’s soap opera framework to a sequel to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet struggling to get on its feet on Broadway.
The plot has been updated to conform with today’s PC standard of womanhood and energized with razor-sharp wit by lyricist and composer David Yazbek and book writer Robert Horn. But beneath the veneer it’s still the story of a jerk redeemed by love as he jumpstarts his stalled acting career by reinventing himself as a woman.
Hummable tunes aren’t this show’s strong point. Rather listen for the laugh-out-loud lyrics that amplify character and speed the plot along. Director Dave Solomon punches the humor without knocking it flat. Performers excel at delivering zingers and physical gags.
The star, Drew Becker, seesaws between the acid-tongued actor Michael Dorsey and his matronly alter ego Dorothy with convincing body language and a singing voice that’s firm and tuneful in both roles. He’s at his comic best when Michael’s dismay leaks through Dorothy’s disguise as he falls for his castmate Julie and his ruse becomes increasingly complicated.
Ashley Alexandra as Julie wields a giant R&B-style voice that can shake the rafters in the ridiculously comic “I’m Alive” or dial down to gentleness in the soul-searching “Who Are You?’
Jared David Michael Grant as Michael’s roommate Jeff, whose warnings about the consequences of Michael’s behavior go unheeded, delights as he gleefully skips through the song “Jeff Sums It Up” when Michael crashes. Payton Reilly as Michael’s former girlfriend Sandy sacrifices some zingers with her imperfect enunciation in the patter tune “What’s Going to Happen” but makes up for it with her woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous breakdown delivery.
Adam Du Plessis stops just short of over-the-top in his irresistible portrayal of the overweening director Ron Carlisle. Matthew Rella, playing the beefcake actor Max Van Horn, could take the honors for the season’s best exit as a besotted Max snarls through a slow-motion retreat when Jeff walks in on him wooing Dorothy. Dianne Manaster as Michael’s long-suffering agent Fran hurls some of the show’s best set-downs.
Big dance numbers blend into the story line with crisp choreography and a seemingly indefatigable chorus. Sets, lighting and costumes are all top notch. In sum, Tootsie isn’t a deep show and it falls short of scoring points in the battle between the sexes. But it sure is fun.
Tootsie plays through Feb. 12 at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. The show runs two hours and 36 minutes including an intermission. Performances are held at 2 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 8), Saturday and Sunday and at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Ticket prices start at $31. For tickets call the box office at (561) 832-7469 or visit kravis.org.