THE BASICS: The national tour of Broadway’s TOOTSIE wraps up public performances this Saturday at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 650 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14202. (716) 847-1410 (sheas.org) Three shows left (tonight at 7:30, Saturday at both 2:00 and 8:00). With a capacity of over 3,019, yes, seats are still available in the balcony ($30 to $40) and orchestra ($70 to $80) with more on the weekend than Friday. I have heard from friends that “rush” tickets (last minute walk up purchases) might be available at a discount. Proof of at least one dose of vaccine required as are masks for the whole performance. You are allowed to discreetly lower your mask to enjoy concessions (all your favorites are back!). Runtime: 2 hours, 35 minutes with one intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Based on the 1982 Dustin Hoffman movie, the musical brings a modern sensibility to the stage, but the basic idea is still that NYC actor Michael Dorsey (Drew Becker) is so opinionated, demanding, and generally difficult to work with that his career is over. Nobody wants him, not even his agent. Then, as his good (but kinda crazy) friend Sandy (Payton Riley) has a meltdown after she’s been denied a plum role (the nurse in the fictional “JULIET’S CURSE”) Michael sees an opportunity. If nobody will hire Michael Dorsey, perhaps they’ll hire “Dorothy Michaels” and so with wigs, costumes, and makeup, he reinvents himself as a woman, gets that role, and becomes the darling of Broadway. But just how long can he juggle all those balls?
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: With a 2019 Tony Award (Best Book of a Musical by Robert Horn) and equally hilarious lyrics (and music) by David Yazbeck, TOOTSIE at Shea’s, after 18 months of shutdown, is what you (and Buffalo) deserve (need?). It’s really good, and apparently good for the city.
Back in June we were told that the three national tour launches rehearsing and “teching” at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre will be bringing an estimated $25 million economic boost for Buffalo. TOOTSIE is the second of those along with FROZEN last month and Aaron Sorkin’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD next spring (starring Richard “John Boy” Thomas as Atticus Finch).
The musical TOOTSIE comes from fertile ground for David Yazbek, so adept at adapting movies to the stage. Remember the out-of-work Buffalo steel workers in the 2001 musical THE FULL MONTY (book by Terrence McNally, music by Yazbek) based on the 1997 movie? Or DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, the 2004 comedy musical (book by Jeffrey Lane, music and lyrics by Yazbek) based on the 1988 movie? And Yazbek is also the Tony Award winning composer for THE BAND’S VISIT (book by Itamar Moses, music and lyrics by Yazbek) based on a 2007 Israeli film?
When the name Yazbek is on the playbill, you’re in good hands. He knows how to do this.
When the name Yazbek is on the playbill, you’re in good hands. He knows how to do this. And by the way, THE BAND’S VISITwas the winner of ten (10!) Tony Awards in 2018 including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical for Itamar Moses and Best Original Score for David Yazbek, and that’s the very next Broadway touring show at Shea’s this season running November 2 – 7 (for which you need your complete vaccination, if you didn’t know).
The concept that Yazbek seems to like is when the protagonist is in some sort of trouble but gets out of it in a way that, on the surface, shouldn’t work. And, along the way, there are always unlikely romantic attractions that, of course, are “complicated.” The setups for all his musicals could be summed up in that popular expression “What could possibly go wrong?” Well, for Michael Doherty in TOOTSIE, just about everything. He lies to the leading lady of the play he’s been hired for as well as his friend Sandy, his fellow actors, the producer, the director, on and on. With an all-knowing “Greek chorus” ensemble (including Buffalo’s own Dominique Kempf, interview here) singing about the many errors of his ways, and his roommate, the struggling playwright Jeff (Jared David Michael Grant), being even more direct, (you’ll love the Act II song “Jeff sums it up”) the writing is snappy and contemporary and the sound system at Shea’s allows you to hear every word.
If Gilbert (lyrics) and Sullivan (music) had been born 125 years later, they might have been David Yazbek.
And those words are important. If Gilbert (lyrics) and Sullivan (music) had been born 125 years later, they might have been David Yazbek. In G&S operettas, high points are always “patter songs” with extremely fast clever contemporary lyrics, perhaps the most famous with the phrase “I am the very model of a modern major general.” The TOOTSIE equivalents are Sandy’s song “What’s Gonna Happen,” “Jeff Sums It Up” and Max’s song “This Thing.”
The cast, delivering comic lines with great timing, acting, dancing, you know, that Broadway stuff they do, are all excellent in their roles, which are:
Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels (Drew Becker) – a struggling actor (and Becker, by the way, as Dorothy has a surprisingly wonderful high range… quite astounding, actually)
Julie Nichols (Ashley Alexandra) – an actress currently starring as Juliet in the fictional play “Juliet’s Curse” who has a bluesy show-stopper “Gone, Gone, Gone” that Alexandra just owns
Sandy Lester (Payton Reilly) – an out-of-work actress and friend of Michael and Jeff (Reilly has great timing and, as mentioned, her “What’s Gonna Happen” is another show-stopper).
Jeff Slater (Jared David Michael Grant) – Michael’s roommate, an unsuccessful playwright. Grant had the audience explode with laughter over and over often with just a look.
Max Van Horn (Lukas James Miller) – a reality show star currently starring as Craig, Romeo’s brother (yes you read that right), in “Juliet’s Nurse” whose chiseled and burned pecs and abs are almost an extra character on their own.
Rita Marshall (Kathy Halenda) – the producer of “Juliet’s Nurse”, totally believable
Ron Carlisle (Adam Du Plessis) – the director and choreographer of “Juliet’s Nurse” is appropriately obnoxious just as Dabney Coleman was in the original movie.
Stan Fields (Steve Brustien) – Michael’s agent makes the most of his three scenes reminding us that “there are no small roles.”
Suzie and Stuart – (Buffalo’s own Dominique Kempf is Suzie, Connor Allston is Stuart) are the book writers for “Juliet’s Nurse”.
Dominique Kempf (Frontier High School, SUNY Fredonia) has been seen on many local stages, including Shea’s 710 (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and AVENUE Q) and MusicalFare (Sarah in RAGTIME, Maria in WEST SIDE STORY, and others). And, we’re thrilled that she’s on the big Shea’s main stage as the musical TOOTSIE begins its national tour in Buffalo.
WHAT TO SEE IN THE CITY AFTER TOOTSIE LEAVE ON ITS TOUR:
On the north side of the alley behind Shea’s is The Alleyway Theatre where a troupe of women, the “Brazen Faced Varlets,” after years of working smaller venues, have a first rate show on the Alleyway’s main stage called ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT by Shirley Lauro. The setting is Germany in The Third Reich under Hitler. Many of the themes have been visited before in such plays as TRIAL AT NUREMBURG, but here the action is presented from the point of view of four gentile (non-Jewish) women and one older authority figure “The Fraus.” It is not easy for any of the women, and this is not a comedy, but the mood is leavened here and there, sometimes with irony, sometimes with sarcasm.
The 30th annual Artie Awards, presented by Buffalo Toronto Public Media, are making their long awaited return on Monday, November 1, at the Kavinoky Theatre. Hosted by D’Youville College, the awards ceremony will celebrate the performances of the theater community’s 2019 – 2020 season and will be streamed.
AMERICAN SON presented by Ujima Theatre Collective in the “Lorna C. Hill” Theatre opens tonight and runs through October 30 at 429 Plymouth in Buffalo (716) 322-5178 ujima.squarespace.com/shows/americanson)
SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD presented by Second Generation Theatre (October 22 – November 14) will be at Shea’s Smith Theatre, 658 Main Street, Buffalo. (secondgenerationtheatre.com)
LOOPED presented by New Phoenix Theatre (October 28 to November 20) 95 Johnson Park, Buffalo 716-853-1334 email@example.com) will feature James Cichocki and Elliot Fox and Julie Kittsley as Tallulah Bankhead.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME presented by “All for One” Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre (October 28 – November 14) (sheas.org/performances/the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-nighttime/)
SOMETHING WICKED presented by American Repertory Theatre (October 28 – November 20) 545 Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. (artofwny.org) (716) 697-0837
WOMAN IN BLACK presented by the Kavinoky Theatre (October 29 – November 21) on the D’Youville College campus in Buffalo, 320 Porter Avenue (716) 829-7668 (Kavinokytheatre.com)
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!