Two Shows About Friendship Are Revised — and Revive


Two live theater shows in Washington, D.C., in time for Hanukkah and Christmas offered the chance to enjoy in person two decades-old favorite stories about friendship and ambition as well as life’s changes and lessons that are relevant to today: “Tuesdays With Morrie” that played at Theater J from Nov. 10 to Dec. 5 and “Tootsie: the Musical” at the National Theatre that runs through Dec. 12.

The passion and professionalism of acting in both shows provided proof that even pandemic theater shutdowns of almost two years cannot kill talent and showmanship.

In the two-man show, “Tuesdays with Morrie,” Michael Russotto as Morrie and Cody Nickell as Mitch – both well known Wooly Mammoth Company actors – portray the heart-rendering change of character of a favorite sociology professor now slowly dying of ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease) and his former student, a now hardened  ambitious successful sports reporter.

From a guilt-ridden first obligation call to regular visits on Tuesdays when they discuss life’s lessons of friendship, humility, purpose and forgiveness — always forgiveness — the play evolves into a lesson of human caring and understanding. The play started out as a memoir, a true-life story by Mitch Albom of his professor Morrie Schwartz that became one of the most popular and most read books in the world with more than 14 million copies sold in over 14 countries.

“Tootsie” lead Drew Becker proved to be an energetic and compelling portrayer of the highly complicated role, made famous by Dustin Hoffman in the 1982 movie, of a difficult and failing actor Michael Dorsey. When every director and his agent fires him for being unemployable, Dorsey sets out to prove them wrong by disguising himself as Dorothy Michaels, an assertive but also highly sympathetic woman. He wins a major part in a new show (in the movie it’s a hospital soap opera, in the musical it’s a variety show) as the new female lead and becomes wildly successful. Becker is on stage practically the entire show, switching from his male character to his female one including voice pitch, movements and gestures. In the end, the complicated situation and consequences of his understanding of himself and others in the diverse cast are in the end on-the- edge, funny, compelling and believable.

Both shows give the live audience the pleasure of being back in a real theater — albeit masked, vaccine vetted and in socially distant seating. And each portrays moods and settings with provocative lighting, music and sets. In “Tuesdays with Morrie,” the passing weeks in the same library set is portrayed with subtle lighting changes. In “Tootsie,” the multiple scenes and props that go from apartments, New York cafes and bars, TV studios, agent offices and the like are seamlessly moved by cast members. Often, as the talented actors end lively dance and singing scenes, they (and others in costume) exit the stage pushing furniture (sometimes with a lead actor still speaking on the couch or chair) and props in hand, while large set pieces move in and new scenery is dropped.

Enjoying live theater (again) was enhanced by getting to watch two of America’s favorite long-running shows and getting life-learning messages at the same time.

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