Musical comedy may look simple onstage, but it’s no easy feat — which makes the current stage adaptation of Tootsie all the more remarkable. The musical take on the beloved 1982 Dustin Hoffman film blends high-wattage Broadway spectacle with a smart score and equally thoughtful performances from a talented cast that manages to banish any sense of ’80s cliche, bringing the story firmly into the present with a great sense of humor intact.
Much of that success owes to composer David Yazbek, a Tony winner for The Band’s Visit who has long excelled at bringing the essence of comedic films to Broadway. Along with stars Lilli Cooper (Julie) and Andy Grotelueschen (Jeff) — all three received Tony nominations this year — he stopped by the Billboard on Broadway podcast to explore just why the musical (currently running at the Marquis Theater) works so well.
“It’s got a very strong, rooted story, but you’re going for the laughs a lot of the time with Tootsie,” says Yazbek. For a musical comedy to succeed, he explains, the characters and situations must dictate what the music will sound like (he knows what he’s talking about: He was once a writer for David Letterman). “The comedy and the characters tell you what the beats will be.” As Cooper adds, the characters within Tootsie “lend themselves to the genre of comedy in different ways. [Book writer] Robert [Horn] and David worked pretty seamlessly in creating these characters that work so specifically for what they need to do in the show.”
Yazbek admits that when first presented with the project, he was not easily convinced that Tootsie would work as a musical. Once he started speaking with Horn, he came to see the story a different way — one more easily suited to the stage. “It turns out that what makes it work is just figuring out what you don’t need, and also just getting to the core of it,” Yazbek explains. “This is a story of someone who can’t get what they want and they do something very radical and then they get it all — and be careful what you wish for. And through that process becomes a human being. That’s what we kept an eye on all the time.”
In their chat with host Rebecca Milzoff, the trio discuss the role music plays in successful musical comedies, why Yazbek’s works so well, and how all three approached taking a movie from 1982 and giving it a more contemporary update. Listen to this week’s episode here.
#BillboardonBroadway is a weekly podcast devoted to all things musical theater and their overlap with pop music. Click here to subscribe to the #BillboardonBroadway podcast on iTunes, and let us know what you think on Twitter (@rebeccamilzoff) or by rating the podcast on iTunes.