Review: “Tootsie” at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts

There were sparkles aplenty at the Buell Theatre in Denver on Tuesday night.

If you go

“Tootsie,” at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Through April 10. Tickets and information at denvercenter.org.

Audience members for the opening night of the Broadway comedy-musical “Tootsie” were spotted in some glitzy finery, from a raspberry and silver sequined suit jacket to glittery red, chunky-heeled booties, keeping with the spirit of the 1982 movie of the same name.

Not all the performances on the stage were as effervescent or memorable.

While Drew Becker was competent in the starring role of Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, his performance lacked the energy and aplomb of others on stage with him. At times, it felt like he was just going through the motions instead of inhabiting the part.

Becker’s singing voice, too, was often weak, fading out altogether at lower registers (and we were close enough that we should have heard every syllable). He was strongest when adopting Dorothy’s soprano, which happily soared. (Perhaps the sound technician could turn up the mic a bit to help him out?)

But it’s telling when the supporting cast outshines the lead. In his scenes, Jared David Michael Grant took control as Jeff, Dorsey’s friend and roommate, especially in the hilarious, expletive-loaded song “Jeff Sums It Up.” And Payton Reilly’s role as bubbly Sandy gave her plenty of chances to charm the audience with her ditzy sweetness and skillful execution of the tongue-tripping tune “What’s Gonna Happen.”

Even Adam Du Plessis (as director Ron Carlisle), Kathy Halenda (as financier Rita Marshall) and Lukas James Miller (as comedic actor Max Van Horn) gave powerhouse performances in predictable but solid roles.

All eyes should have been on Dorsey/Michaels when he/she was on stage, but I would bet they weren’t.

As befits a national touring cast of a Broadway production, the sets, costumes, orchestrations, lyrics and dance numbers were top-notch, sweeping the audience up in the story.

And it was the story that could have been trouble, but the book by Tony Award-winner Robert Horn brings the 1982 movie starring Dustin Hoffman into a more “woke” place for today’s audiences. The female characters are more fully developed and not just targets of a man’s desires (albeit there’s a bit of that, too). Co-star Ashley Alexander as Dorsey’s love interest, Julie, justifies her decision to follow her dream of acting rather than follow a man. Alexander, incidentally, is delightful, and her powerful, controlled and impassioned singing is mesmerizing.

And there were some great one-liners that elicited laugh-out-loud approval from the audience. One of them: When Jeff confronts Michael about pretending to be a woman to get a part, he says, “You’ll have to take a pay cut.” Zing.

The songs and lyrics were also strong, some addressing female empowerment, like “Unstoppable,” “There Was John” and “I Like What She’s Doing.”

And, yes, I bought an “Unstoppable” T-shirt at the merch stand.

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