‘Tootsie’ the Musical Plays Gender-Bending for Laughs
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‘Tootsie’ the Musical Plays Gender-Bending for Laughs

Tony award winning musical opens January 25th at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

“Tootsie” was nominated for 11 Tony Awards when it originally debuted on Broadway in 2019.
“Tootsie” was nominated for 11 Tony Awards when it originally debuted on Broadway in 2019.

Forty years after Dustin Hoffman starred in the film “Tootsie,” one of the biggest hits of his career, a musical comedy loosely based on the film is coming to the Fox Theater on Jan. 25.

It’s the first national tour for the hit show, which was nominated for 11 Tony Awards after it opened on Broadway in April 2019. Its successful eight-month run ended just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many productions.

But, since October, when this new touring production was first launched in Buffalo, it’s been presenting eight shows a week in city after city without slowing for the virus.

Steve Brustien, who left his home in Great Neck, N.Y. for rehearsals just after Labor Day, credits the producers and their abundance of caution for keeping the show up and running over the last four months.

Dramatist Robert Horn and composer and lyricist David Yazbek have created a fast-moving, tuneful comedy.

“We have a COVID officer on site with us the entire time. We have 22 cast members and a production crew of 25. We get tested anywhere between two and four times per week. We’re always wearing masks, even when we’re backstage at the theater, waiting to go on. I’ve actually been guilty of running out for my curtain call with my mask on, which gave a little chuckle to the rest of the cast. But we’re very, very serious about handling those issues.”

This is the 61-year-old Brustien’s first major role. He grew up in Great Neck’s Jewish community, was an active member of Temple Beth-El there, dabbled in local theater for years, but ultimately chose a career on Wall Street. Now he’s left all that behind for a year of traveling from city to city on a tour that ends in California in June.

The musical comedy is loosely based on the 1982 blockbuster film, featuring Dustin Hoffman.

Brustien plays Stan Fields, the manager of actor Michael Dorsey, the role originated by Hoffman. In the musical, Dorsey is a New York actor who has developed a reputation for being difficult to work with. Determined to land a role in a new Broadway show no matter what, he takes on a new identity as a woman, Dorothy Michaels. As Dorothy, he wins the lead in the show, “Juliet’s Nurse,” but what he doesn’t realize is how others will see his gender swap and how being a woman will change how he sees himself as a man. He gets his big break, and then the fun begins.

The production uses the challenges he faces as a woman as opportunities for jokes. Dramatist Robert Horn won a Tony for his adaptation of the film into a fast-paced, broad comedy that’s short on logic and long on laughs.

Brustien’s role as the star’s manager was originated by Sydney Pollack, who made a rare on-screen appearance while doubling as the film’s director.

Hoffman’s gender-bending antics in the film 40 years ago are generally seen as old-hat today. One of the show’s biggest challenges is how to remain relevant to a contemporary audience that approaches gender and sexual identity with much greater fluidity and understanding.

Fans of the television show “Jeopardy!”, for example, are well aware that one of its recent top all-time winners is a transgender woman. Trans actors and actresses today achieve greater recognition for their roles. Last year, a trans woman was nominated for a top award at the primetime Emmys.

Nonetheless, the show’s broad comedy gets a big boost from the lively music and lyrics, written by David Yazbek, who has also successfully adapted the recent Broadway hit “The Band’s Visit” from the original Israeli film. Yazbek’s clever work, which was also nominated for a Tony, is likely to make audiences forget how easily we now accept men in skirts. Particularly when, as Brustien puts it, we’re laughing too hard to give it a second thought.

Steve Brustien plays the agent of an actor who lands a Broadway role by posing as a woman.

“It’s just a perfect time for this type of show. We’re going through a difficult time. People just want to go to the theater and be entertained and get their mind off everyday life. And that’s what this show provides. It gives you a chance to smile and laugh and laugh some more.”

In its review of the original Broadway production, Variety called the adaptation “old-fashioned and proud of it — and it’s a surefire crowd-pleaser.”

If you attend “Tootsie,” remember to wear your mask; the Fox Theater requires it. The popular venue, which dates back to the late 1920s, has installed a new ultraviolet air filtration system that is said to remove germs and viruses. It also claims to be the only theater in the state to meet the stringent sanitation requirements established by the Global Biorisk Advisory Council.

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