Broadway is back in Orlando with Fairwinds' 'Tootsie' — but does it live up to the hype?

Broadway is back in Orlando with Fairwinds' 'Tootsie' — but does it live up to the hype?
Photo courtesy the Dr. Phillips Center

Broadway is back in Orlando, and not a moment too soon. A year and a half after the Fairwinds season was abruptly curtailed by COVID-19, national touring musicals have finally returned to the Dr. Phillips Center and the enthusiasm among the opening night audience was frankly intoxicating.

In fact, between the nearly frictionless new health & safety screening system (shout-out to Evolv’s touch-free security scanners) and the opportunity to glimpse the nearly-completed lobby of Steinmetz Hall — I’d say that Tuesday night at Tootsie: The Comedy Musical got off to one of the best starts of any evening I’ve experienced in the Walt Disney Theater.

Unfortunately, although Mean Girls — Orlando’s last Broadway tour prior to the pandemic — was an above-average example of movie-based musicals, Tootsie struggles to achieve par for this justifiably derided genre. This updated adaptation of Dustin Hoffman’s 1982 hit movie sees 40-year-old failed actor Michael Dorsey (Drew Becker) cross-dressing as “Dorothy Michaels” to land a role in a misbegotten musical sequel to Romeo and Juliet, clashing with his sexist director (Adam Du Plessis) and falling for his co-star (Ashley Alexandra).

The best that I can say about this show is that the non-union cast gives it their all, especially Payton Reilly (as Dorsey’s manic pixie ex) and Jared David Michael Grant (as his bartender bestie). To be fair, the theater-hungry crowd around me lapped up every crude innuendo in writer Robert Horn’s inexplicably award-winning script, which features dick jokes rubbing up awkwardly against heavy-handed #MeToo moralizing. David Yazbek’s score and Denis Jones’ choreography accurately mock Broadway clichés, but fail to bring anything fresh or memorable to the boards.

Worst of all, director Dave Solomon (who was associate director of the Broadway production under Scott Ellis) unnecessarily drags out every comedic beat past the breaking point, sapping the pacing of any energy. Couple that with a lead character whose only personality trait is being an unlikeable ass from start to finish and who never evidences the acting talent that’s supposed to justify his arrogance, and you end up with a show whose endless second act smothers any goodwill the first briefly generated.

Did I mention already how wonderful it is having Broadway back in Orlando? If you agree, and want to maintain that positive attitude, take my advice: Show up for Tootsie’s curtain rise, but exit at intermission.

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