My review of “Tootsie” can be put into four words. Laugh out loud funny.
Those who know me will tell you I do not laugh easily. It’s an occupational hazard of being a performer. It’s very hard to surprise me, and laughter depends on that surprise.
Not so with “Tootsie,” now on stage at the Providence Performing Arts Center. It is jam-packed with jokes – and overflowing with physical comedy too.
The story is relatively simple. Michael Dorsey (Drew Becker) is an actor who struggles to get work. He’s a good actor, but he has a particular talent for ticking off directors who never ever want to work with him again. He argues with one director, after giving the character he’s been cast to play a backstory. “My character deserves his truth,” says Dorsey. “Your character doesn’t even have a name!” the director responds just before firing him.
“Part of the problem,” says Dorsey’s roommate Jeff, “is that you don’t realize you’re the whole problem.”
Desperate, he dons a wig and puts some padding under a dress and auditions as Dorothy Michaels. Of course, he gets the job and what follows is simply hilarious.
Don’t overthink too much. The show is set in modern times, and this is not the time to have a guy masquerading as a woman to get a job, nor is it a time for a man masquerading as a woman to be championing women’s rights. There’s something there that rings a little hollow.
But put that aside. When the movie on which the musical is based was produced in 1982, it was a different time. And a lot of what happened was just funny. A lot like that sitcom where Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari dressed as women to get lodging in a women’s-only hotel. Not likely to happen now.
In the musical, Dorothy is cast as Juliet’s nurse in a musical called “Juliet’s Curse,” a what-if story considering Juliet’s life had she not killed herself after the death of Romeo. (Sorry, should have said “spoiler alert” before that.) Before long, she turns the production upside down and ends up the star in the renamed “Juliet’s Nurse.”
In the course of the rehearsals, Dorsey falls in love with his co-star Julie (Ashley Alexandra), which of course adds more confusion. No need for me to explain further – just see it for yourself to see how it all turns out.
There are amazingly funny performances here by two supporting players: Matt Kurzyniec as Jess, Dorsey’s roommate, and Payton Reilly as Sandy, Dorsey’s friend and former girlfriend. (Fun tidbit: Matt and Payton are engaged to one another in real life. And Matt is not the regular Jess. He stepped up from the ensemble on opening night.)
They each have several moments to shine alone with incredibly comic results, and one scene together where they really let loose. They are so much fun to watch.
The music and lyrics by David Yazbek have a certain familiarity to it. He also wrote the music for “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which has a lot of comic elements similar to “Tootsie.” Many of the songs will have you laughing as well, especially Reilly’s “What’s Gonna Happen,” which she reprises twice in the show, and Kurzyniec’s “Jeff Sums It Up,” which opens up the second act with a musical recap of the first act.
“Tootsie” is laugh-out-loud funny. Did I mention that already? Do yourself a favor and see this one before it closes on Sunday.
“Tootsie” runs through Sunday at the Providence Performing Arts Center. For tickets and information, call the box office at 401.421.ARTS or visit www.ppacri.org.