New musical ‘Tootsie’ called a love letter to the theater

New musical ‘Tootsie’ called a love letter to the theater

A musical adaptation of the 1982 film “Tootsie” comes to the Walton Arts Center Jan. 17-22.

Unlike the movie, this version is touted as a “love letter to the theater” with more wigs and costume changes than the original.

“I feel like it’s a love letter to theater because we’ve taken it out of the soap opera world, and we placed it in the world of musical theater,” explains Drew Becker, who plays the lead character, Michael Dorsey. “I think we get to pay tribute to the artform of theater. You see what it’s like in person. You see what it’s like in auditions. You see what it’s like for people on opening night. It gives you a little bit of a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be involved in a show while you’re watching the show itself.”

Bryon McDonald, who has one of the most important jobs for this production — supervising hair and makeup — says he feels the same way.

“It is a love letter because there’s so many costume changes, there’s so many wig changes in the show that it just creates a fun atmosphere. This is one of the funnest shows that I’ve worked on — the first in a long time — where you get to have just a lot of fun with the hair and the makeup and the costumes,” McDonald adds.

“Drew has eight wigs per show. He has 15 in all,” McDonald adds. “With the ensemble, we have 70 wigs that are in the show.”

On top of all the wigs, there are 12 costume changes with the shortest change happening in under 30 seconds.

“The shortest one is actually 25 seconds, or we’ve gotten it shorter sometimes,” McDonald says. In order to pull off the ever-changing looks, McDonald explains that a team is assigned to follow Becker around during the brief moments when he is actually off stage.

“We’re all there to make sure that everything is set up properly. So all he has to do is really come offstage. And we move around him, and he just stands there, and we get him dressed and get him back on stage as fast as we can,” McDonald says. “We’ve done this in rehearsal and so many times that it just kind of comes as second nature now; it’s just so easy. And Drew is so easy to work with, too, that it just comes naturally at this point.”

It’s a process not unlike when a race car pulls off the NASCAR track mid-race.

“That is 100% accurate,” Becker says.

This is the seventh touring show that McDonald has been involved in his 11 years backstage.

“On this show, it’s different because you have Drew going from Dorothy Michaels back to Michael, back to Dorothy Michaels, so there’s a lot of that changing going back and forth. I’ve never really worked on a show where you’ve had somebody change so many times so quickly,” he says. “Most shows you have some time, and you know there’s a song or two before the actor has to go back on stage. This one is just so quick and fast that this one is definitely different than most shows that I’ve worked on.

“We travel three wardrobe people, and they hire 14 people in each city to help dress everyone,” McDonald says.

“Tootsie” is even more demanding for Becker, who is in nearly every scene of the show. When he’s not on stage, Becker is changing costumes and wigs.

“I’ve really had to focus on finding stamina to be able to do the show, but it’s been an immensely fun challenge,” Becker says.

Building up to play that role, Becker says that he relied on both rehearsals and support from others — unlike his character, Michael Dorsey.

“The first year that we were putting this up, we had about three weeks of rehearsal, and then about two weeks of [technical rehearsals]. When you’re running it and running it, and rehearsing it, you find your way of doing the show in a healthy way,” Becker explains. “I was working with a vocal coach for the singing aspect of the show. And I was working with the coach for the voice aspect of the show to find a place to have my voice set as Dorothy that would be healthy to do for two and a half hours and switching back and forth. So really, it was a team effort of trying to figure it out. And I was lucky to not have to go at it just by myself.”

He says he also had to break down the role in layers, discovering Michael Dorsey becoming the character of Dorothy Michaels.

“When preparing for the role, I really wanted to find a physicality for each character that was different. I feel like Michael would put in the work to really make sure that he moves differently, carries himself differently as Dorothy, so that he wouldn’t get caught trying to impersonate this woman and being involved with the Broadway show,” Becker explains. “I was watching some interviews and videos of some specific women that I wanted to base physicality off of. And so there’s a little bit of like Kerry Washington, Michelle Obama, a lot of Patti LuPone, how she carries herself, because she carries herself with such a confidence.”

Becker says that one thing they wanted to carry over from the movie was Dorothy’s Southern accent.

“It’s a little bit iconic from the movie, and so we didn’t want to throw that away,” Becker says. “We picked Dolly Parton, actually, as somebody that we were trying to emulate a little bit of, mainly because of how you talk to her and you feel so loved and uplifted and she’s such a light. And that’s what Dorothy brings into the room with her and how she’s able to connect so well with everybody around her. It was really just kind of like piecing little bits of women that I felt were inspiring and basically putting them in to a blender and making a smoothie that came out as Dorothy.”

“I relate to his passion for wanting to do the best that he absolutely can and his love for the work itself,” says Becker of his character in “Tootsie.” “He loves research on the character. He loves the art of acting, and I relate to him on that level. I just think that he definitely has a bad attitude towards other people. And he forgets that it’s a collaboration and not just a solo act.”



WHAT — A musical comedy adaptation of the 1982 film about a talented but difficult actor who struggles to find work until one show-stopping act of desperation lands him the role of a lifetime. The “love letter to theater” features Tony-winning book by Robert Horn and score by 2018 Tony-winner David Yazbek. Recommended for ages 13 and older.

WHEN — 7 p.m. Jan. 17-18; 1:30 & 7 p.m. Jan. 19; 8 p.m. Jan. 20; 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 21; and 2 p.m. Jan. 22

WHERE — Walton Arts Center, 495 W. Dickson St. in Fayetteville

COST — $41-$82



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Categories: Theater