‘Tootsie’ musical, adapted from the classic 1982 film, makes first visit to San Diego

The cast of the touring musical "Tootsie," which plays April 12-17 at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
(Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade)

Tony-winning bookwriter said film’s story about a cross-dressing actor had to be transformed and updated for modern audiences


San Diego theater fans will get their first look at “Tootsie: The Comedy Musical” when it makes its first visit to the San Diego Civic Theatre next week.

The musical was based on the Oscar-nominated 1982 film starring Dustin Hoffman as struggling New York actor Michael Becker, who disguises himself as a woman to land a female role in a soap opera and becomes an overnight star (with a big secret). With a score by David Yazbek (“The Band’s Visit,” “The Full Monty”) and a Tony-winning book by Robert Horn (“13: The Musical”), the “Tootsie” musical premiered in Chicago in 2018 and had a nearly yearlong run on Broadway in 2019.

The first national tour, delayed for 18 months by the pandemic, hit the road last October. In prepared comments, bookwriter Horn answered a few questions about the musical. His responses have been edited for space.

Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey in the national tour of "Tootsie: The Comedy Musical."
Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey in the national tour of “Tootsie: The Comedy Musical,” playing April 12-17 at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
(Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade)

Q: How did you get the idea to adapt “Tootsie” for the theater?

A: The idea came from our prolific and wonderful producer, Scott Sanders, who had the rights to the movie. ... When he approached me about it, I got very nervous. I mean, it’s an iconic movie and comic masterpiece, but it also has content and plot points that I knew did not age well. I was terrified to take it on at first and passed on the offer. But then I sat down with the composer, David Yazbek, and we talked out all the ways we could make it our own, update it, go back to just the DNA of the story and rebuild it out from there.

Q: What are the biggest differences between the film and the musical?

A: The main one was taking it out of the world of soap opera. That art form felt dated and didn’t have the social reach it did in 1982. We decided to put it in the world of musical theater because it felt organic to it becoming a musical … a reason for them to sing. As well, theater is such an insular community. To have the story take place in that world raised the stakes for the other characters. Another shift that needed to happen was the point of view of the female characters in the story. It was important they reflect the impact and progress women have made in society and art since the days of the original film. There is both a strength and vulnerability to the women portrayed in the musical that I think, sadly, might not have resonated back in the early ‘80s.

Q: How does the character of Michael change as a result of disguising himself to act in a Broadway show?

A: I like a story where the protagonist isn’t always a great character at first, but you relate to their journey, their desperation, their desires and wants, so you follow them to watch them grow and change. We are living in ever-shifting times, and there is a social responsibility on all of us to adapt to changes and learn to grow from what we might not have understood just a short time ago.

Q: What is the highlight of the show for you?

A: The real commerce of this show is its comedy, its tone. And of course, the clown car of actors that brings it to life every night. The comedy comes at you with such love, then there are these hysterical songs by David that at once have you laughing and moments later thinking.

‘Tootsie: The Comedy Musical’

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. 7:30 p.m. Thursday. 8 p.m. April 15. 2 and 8 p.m. April 16. 1 and 6:30 p.m. April 17.

Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego

Tickets: $35.50 and up