Review: The musical ‘Tootsie’ is funny and well performed, if not particularly melodious

It’s been 40 years since “Tootsie” premiered in theaters, and this week, “Tootsie: The Comedy Musical” made its local premiere in a touring production through Sunday at the San Diego Civic Theater.

The 2018 Broadway musical was put to song by composer David Yazbek and its plot updated to modern times by screenwriter Robert Horn, but its main story remains intact. Wayward and self-centered actor Michael Dorsey has alienated every casting director in New York and been fired by his agent, so he dresses up as the woman, Dorothy Michaels, lands a job on a show and becomes a star.

But at what cost ?

Horn’s funny and bawdy book, Yazbek’s hilarious lyrics and Denis Jones’ choreography are highlights of the show, presented by Broadway San Diego.

Instead of Michael landing a job on a soap opera, he’s a Broadway actor, and the script is full of in-jokes and homages to the world of musical theater. A neurotic actress sings an incredibly fast song about hearing trauma, and a scene known as “Ron Carlisle’s Dance” parodies the most cliched steps of Broadway choreography (“Ditch, Ditch…freezing the brain… the floor is lava… hot, hot, hot, hot!”).

Drew Becker as Michael and Ashley Alexandra as Julie in “Tootsie: The Comedy Musical”.

(Evan Zimmerman/Murphy Made)

San Diego theatergoers are familiar with Yazbek’s work. He composed ‘The Full Monty’ and ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’, both of which premiered at the Old Globe, and he wrote the beautiful score to ‘The Band’s Visit’, which toured the Civic Theater last month. By comparison, the “Tootsie” score is mostly immemorial.

As Michael/Dorothy, Drew Becker achieves a difficult feat, both performing and singing in different registers as a man and a woman. Becker is considerably taller and physically much taller than the original Dorothy, the 5-foot-6 Dustin Hoffman, but he carries himself with a smooth and graceful manner. Creatively constructed costumes by William Ivey Long also help Becker pull off the transformation, along with the casting of several male ensemble members who are well over 6 feet tall.

Ashley Alexandra, as Julia, Michael’s love interest, is the show’s warm heart. She’s a wonderful singer and genuine actress whose pain is believable when she discovers Michael’s trickery. As Michael’s playwright roommate, Jeff, Jared David Michael Grant is endearing, the funniest actor on the show, and has the best song on the score (“Jeff Sums it Up”).

Lukas James Miller makes a fun transformation as Max, the Broadway hunk who, inexplicably, falls for Dorothy. Payton Reilly has mastered his character Sandy’s difficult songs, but his screams throughout the show sound excessively high-pitched.

Directed by Dave Solomon, the touring show is around two hours and 30 minutes long, which feels like a long time. The first act starts to drag towards the end, but the second act moves quickly and the bittersweet ending is true to the movie.

For audiences attending “Tootsie,” it is the first show since the Civic Theater reopened that does not require proof of vaccination or a face mask. There is, however, mandatory metal detector screening and bag inspection, so be prepared for a five to 10 minute delay for entry. A strict ‘no outside food or drink’ rule is also newly enforced. All candies, snacks, chips and opened water bottles were confiscated from ticket holders and thrown into trash cans on Wednesday night.

“Tootsie: The Musical”

When: 7:30 p.m. today. 8 p.m. Friday. 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday. 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: San Diego Civic Theater, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego

Tickets: $35.50 and more

On line: broadwaysd.com

Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey in National Tour of "Tootsie: The Musical."

Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey on the ‘Tootsie: The Comedy Musical’ National Tour, April 12-17 at the San Diego Civic Theater.

(Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade)