On Stage: “Tootsie” Rolls With Laughter and Heart

Theatre By The Sea stages another must-see show


I am not a fan of movies adapted into – what I call – “street clothes musicals.” Characters singing and dancing in jeans and sneakers to today’s pop hits is not my jam. The main reason I even chose to attend opening night of Tootsie is that, to date, any show I have seen at Bill Hanney’s Theatre By The Sea in Wakefield, has been nothing short of jubilant. Performances are top-notch, and the production values, from choreography to costumes, live orchestra to sound and sets, are tremendous. The fact that the theater is housed in a historic barn with brick pathways leading to the onsite restaurant and an outdoor bar aglow with strands of edison bulbs, all backdropped by lush landscaping, only adds to the experience – but let’s face it, if a show stinks, the salt air ain’t going to help. 

As my friend and I settled into our seats, I attempted to let go of any low expectations and keep an open mind. I hadn’t seen the 1982 film starring Dustin Hoffman in years. I mostly recalled the story of a struggling actor who pretends to be a woman to land a role in a soap opera, falls for his female co-star, and hijinks ensue – while Hoffman’s awful “ladylike” tone and southern accent leaned toward misophonia trigger status. My program informed me that running time is two hours and 40 minutes with intermission. I buckled up.

Act one opens with a rousing musical theater number where we are soon introduced to the world of Michael Dorsey, played by Kyle Nicholas Anderson, who vaguely resembles British actor Tim Curry, making his Theatre By The Sea debut. We see Michael at rehearsals, annoying the director, and getting fired; he makes ends meet by working at a steakhouse with his roommate Jeff Slater, played by Dean Marino. It’s Michael’s birthday and he feels like a failure, especially when his longtime bestie Jeff presents the crumpled list of goals Michael wrote at age 19. I started thinking of Company (“Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!”), until Brooke Jacob disrupts the flow, bounding into the apartment as ex-girlfriend Sandy Lester; she masterfully performs “What’s Gonna Happen,” a patter song that is laugh-out-loud funny. By then, I was fully paying attention, and completely enjoying myself – even with two out of three actors wearing jeans on stage – Jacob is in a jumpsuit, but I digress.

The musical adaptation of Tootsie is much different than the movie. It’s based on a book by Robert Horn, with original music and lyrics (read: no top hits!) by David Yazbek, who attended Brown in the 1980s, and most recently worked on the musical Buena Vista Social Club. Instead of a soap opera, the story centers on Broadway and the passion and drive of those willing to make sacrifices to make it big in show biz. Find the complete synopsis here

Each member of the cast truly dazzles. Anderson is nimble and mesmerizing as he dashes between playing both Michael and Michael playing Dorothy, and upon taking the stage in the red sequined gown, the crowd goes wild. Marino is relatable and hysterical as the roommate; Joann Gilliam (love interest Julie Nichols) radiates warmth through her remarkable voice; Jadon Webster as Dorothy’s smitten co-star Max Von Horn, has sparkling comedic timing that match his washboard abs and smile; and Rhody treasure Fred Sullivan, Jr. is a hoot as Michael’s agent, Stan Fields. The entire ensemble truly shines and during the course of the evening, everyone will catch your eye and deservedly so. Tootsie is an absolute summer treat.

Tootsie runs through July 20. Book yourself dinner at Bistro By The Sea, make it an overnight at Admiral Dewey Inn, and you’ve got yourself a magical evening in Matunuck. 

Theatre By The Sea

364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield


Read more about the theater’s storied past from our recent issue of So Rhode Island: The Impresario Behind Matunuck’s Theatre By The Sea


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