Touring Broadway: Tootsie Brings Important Underlying Message to Austin Stage

by Britni Rachal on February 24, 2022 in Entertainment, Theatre, Austin, San Antonio,

“Walk a thousand miles in a woman’s shoes and you’ll still not fully know.” That’s the message and wording that a modernized version of Tootsie currently delivers to Austin’s Bass Concert Hall.

Described as a “musical comedy heaven” by Rolling Stone and the “most uproarious new musical in years!” by the Hollywood Reporter, the musical gets rave reviews, and I agree. Basically, a musical—about a musical—the storyline centers around an out-of-work fictional Broadway star, Michael Dorsey (Drew Becker), who suddenly finds himself struggling to find work. To solve his problems, he decides to dress as a woman and auditions for the nurse’s role in Romeo and Juliet, but little does he know, as he lands the part, his real problems are just beginning.

Tootsie is a musical within a musical. Catch it now through Feb. 27 at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall, then Mar. 1-6 at San Antonio’s Majestic Theatre.
Photo Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

“You’re acting hysterical,” says his director as he also calls him pet names like “Tootsie.” The words made me grimace. Michael, the show’s main character – now operating under the fake name of Dorothy, reminds the director that his “name is Dorothy” and actively questions why the men on set aren’t called pet names, as well.

To be fully honest, having never seen the original play or the 1982 movie (starring Dustin Hoffman, who was Oscar-nominated for his portrayal of the lead character), I really like this modernized approach to Tootsie. The modernization was apparent due to the use of iPhones, MacBooks, and certain references scattered throughout the entire play.

Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey (left) and Jared David Michael Grant as Jeff Slater in the National Tour of TOOTSIE. Photo Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

The play takes jabs at modern day gender inequalities. For example, when Michael’s friend finds out he is taking a role – pretending to a woman, he jokingly reminds him, “But you’ll take a cut in pay!” Highly relevant, as the gender pay gap is still widely talked about, with recent studies showing the so-called gender pay gap has remained relatively constant for the last 15 years, with women still only earning 84% to what men earn in similar roles.

I’m not trying to make the musical about anything political. But at the same time – why is gender equality considered political? In most ways, it’s a basic human right. A dignity. For example, something as simple as providing direct feedback and mentorship to all employees—both men and women—is something that really can’t be taken for granted, especially if a woman is working in a predominately male environment or department.

Studies show women are 20% less likely than men to get difficult feedback. But on top of that, a recent Harvard Review study also found that men are encouraged “to claim their space” and women are encouraged “to get along” within their workplace. But does that come at the cost of asking women to simply accept and allow disrespectful remarks and behavior – while also still telling them that they “are the problem”?

Payton Reilly as Sandy Lester in the National Tour of TOOTSIE. Photo Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Basically, you can’t (well, I guess, you can) – but maybe you shouldn’t, give a woman feedback only on her interpersonal communications performance, without giving specific examples of what the problem is and how to improve it, while all-together ignoring feedback on her actual work—things that can help a professional grow and advance. In many instances, these situations arise from a manager’s own blind spots, and while we can be empathetic to that — it’s time to raise awareness to unconscious bias.

Perhaps it is also time that we reframe the topic—and start to realize, as a society, the full strength of what it means to be a woman. Because of all these underlying, relevant, and real messages, apparent throughout this entire thought-provoking musical, I highly recommend going to see Tootsie. These are conversations that we need to have more fluidly, as a society, in 2022, and moving forward.

Overall, the production was outstanding. Stunning vocal and choreography graced the stage. The musical book by Robert Horn is especially impressive, and Drew Becker does an excellent job in the lead role as Michael, along with Ashley Alexandria as Julie Nichols, Payton Reilly as Sandy, and Lukas James Millar is hilarious as Max Van Horn.

Jared David Michael Grant as Jeff Slater, Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey, and Payton Reilly as Sandy Lester in the National Tour of TOOTSIE.
Photo Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

It’s also so nice to be back at Broadway in Austin once again. With Hamilton returning in December — but then Hadestown being postponed in January, for some patrons, this was their very first time back in the now newly renovated Bass Concert Hall.

Tootsie is at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall now through Sunday, Feb. 27. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased online.

March 1, Tootsie heads to San Antonio’s Majestic Theatre through Mar. 6.

Cover photo courtesy Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Britni Rachal lives in Austin, Texas. She is a freelance journalist, full-time marketer, and a Realtor®. In addition to writing, Rachal enjoys traveling, event planning, fashion, fitness and serving the Austin community.