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Broadway returns to Tampa at The Straz with ‘Tootsie’

The first touring production since the pandemic began opened Tuesday to an enthusiastic crowd.
The David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts as the Broadway season reopens with "Tootsie" after a year of sitting out because of the pandemic on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021 in Tampa.
The David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts as the Broadway season reopens with "Tootsie" after a year of sitting out because of the pandemic on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 28

TAMPA — Judy Lisi took to the stage Tuesday night at the opening of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts’ Broadway season and proclaimed, “Welcome back!”

The Straz’s president and CEO was met with a roaring “woo” from the masked audience there to see the musical Tootsie.

“I’m so happy,” someone exclaimed from a nearby row in the theater’s Morsani Hall.

It’s been a long time coming, as the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020 and it only reopened this September. No touring shows, which make up the Straz’s Broadway season each year, could happen until now. But after more than a year of rescheduling shows, the curtain rose Tuesday on the first Broadway show back.

Related: Broadway's on the roster at Tampa's Straz Center
Related: Tampa's Straz Center announces more shows

The return looked different from an audience member’s perspective. Because of the center’s policy that guests must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test or a CDC card showing proof of being fully vaccinated, there were more steps to entering the show.

Bob Sheehan, 67, left, waits as Dionne Christian, the Straz Center special assistant to the COO, center, verifies the COVID vaccination card of his wife, Kathy Sheehan, 66, at the entry check point at the David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa.
Bob Sheehan, 67, left, waits as Dionne Christian, the Straz Center special assistant to the COO, center, verifies the COVID vaccination card of his wife, Kathy Sheehan, 66, at the entry check point at the David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

It was well-organized, with an area for verification stations where folks showed their proof of vaccine or negative test and an ID. (Here’s a tip: Take a photo of your card or test with your ID and pull it up on your phone to avoid fumbling with documents.)

Theatergoers show proof of a negative COVID test or a COVID vaccination card at the check point as they enter the David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts.
Theatergoers show proof of a negative COVID test or a COVID vaccination card at the check point as they enter the David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Should someone not have either proof with them, there is a rapid COVID-19 testing station onsite that will deliver your results before showtime.

A COVID testing booth is open outside the entrance to the David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa.
A COVID testing booth is open outside the entrance to the David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Masks must be kept on at all times, except when eating or drinking. Reminders are stated on signs. Guests largely followed this policy, especially in the theater.

Signs remind guests to wear masks as theatergoers enter The Straz.
Signs remind guests to wear masks as theatergoers enter The Straz. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
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The mandates did not seem to deter the sizeable crowd that streamed into the lobby. There were people of all ages — and all levels of attire, including a couple who appeared to be dressed for Halloween. The overall experience felt safe. And the shared positive energy — the performing arts center was buzzing with enthusiasm — made it feel even better.

Theatergoers enter the lobby of The Straz as the Broadway season reopens with "Tootsie."
Theatergoers enter the lobby of The Straz as the Broadway season reopens with "Tootsie." [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Theatergoers head from the lobby into the theater at The Straz center to see the musical comedy, "Tootsie."
Theatergoers head from the lobby into the theater at The Straz center to see the musical comedy, "Tootsie." [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

That tracks with what Summer Bohnenkamp, Straz chief marketing and programming officer, said about the reaction to the Broadway season.

“We have more than 9,000 subscribers (people who bought season tickets) ... and the percentage of those people that are new is higher than ever, more than 25 percent ahead of where our new subscribers usually are,” she said in a phone interview. “So I think a lot of people are ready and excited.”

While there were some ticketholders who wanted refunds when the COVID-19 policies were announced, Bohnenkamp said the process has been agreeable and smooth.

A digital sign reads "Broadway is Back" as ushers work the door of the theater at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
A digital sign reads "Broadway is Back" as ushers work the door of the theater at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Mother and daughter Malina and Ella Spokas of Tampa took a selfie in front of the Tootsie backdrop in the lobby. They were excited for the return of Broadway. They have come to shows in the past, but this is the first year they bought season tickets, a gift for Ella’s birthday because she’s “really into musical theater,” she said.

Ella Spokas, 15, left, and her mom Malina Spokas, 47, of Tampa Heights, get their picture taken in front of the "Tootsie" backdrop in the lobby at The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
Ella Spokas, 15, left, and her mom Malina Spokas, 47, of Tampa Heights, get their picture taken in front of the "Tootsie" backdrop in the lobby at The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Tootsie couldn’t have been a more fitting return. The musical comedy based on the 1982 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange is billed as a “love letter to the theater.”

It follows out-of-work actor Michael Dorsey (the versatile Drew Becker), whose temperamental personality makes him difficult to work with, earning him a terrible reputation. Desperate for work, he launches a scheme to audition for a woman’s role in a Broadway show that his friend Sandy (the perfectly neurotic Payton Reilly) was trying out for. To do this, he invents a “character,” Southern lady Dorothy Michaels. He lands the part.

Payton Reilly as Sandy Lester and Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey in the national tour of "Tootsie."
Payton Reilly as Sandy Lester and Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey in the national tour of "Tootsie." [ EVAN ZIMMERMAN | Courtesy of MurphyMade ]

The film version takes place on the set of a soap opera. But for the musical, David Yazbek (music and lyrics) and Robert Horn (book) move the action to the stage, opening up opportunities to poke loving fun at Broadway choreography, desperate actors, pompous directors and bad musical theater.

The cast of the national tour of "Tootsie,"playing through Sunday  at The Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa .
The cast of the national tour of "Tootsie,"playing through Sunday at The Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa . [ EVAN ZIMMERMAN | Courtesy of MurphyMade ]

When Michael tells his longtime friend Jeff (crowd-pleaser Jared David Michael Grant) about his plan to impersonate a woman, Jeff is taken aback. In this era, Michael’s plan just feels wrong to Jeff.

Things get even more complicated when Michael starts falling for the musical’s leading lady, Julie (golden-voiced Ashley Alexandra) and her feelings are reciprocated, but for Dorothy, not Michael. As things get more sticky, Jeff delivers a hilarious song, Jeff Sums It Up.

The audience ate it all up, laughing, cheering and ending the evening with a standing ovation.

If you go

Tootsie runs through Oct. 31. Tickets start at $41.50; prices are subject to change. The Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. 813-229-7827. strazcenter.org.