Robert Horn, Tony-nominated for his snappy book to “Tootsie,” knows all too well what it’s like to scrape out a living in New York while trying to break into the theater. He never played a tomato, as did Michael Dorsey, the struggling actor at the center of “Tootsie,” but, “growing up dirt poor on the streets of New York,” he had one scrappy job after another: bartender at the Uris (now Gershwin) Theatre, garbage collector in Bryant Park and popcorn salesman at a movie theater on Third Avenue in 1982, where he saw “Tootsie” a dozen times.
“I knew I wanted to be in the theater from the time I saw my first musical, ‘70, Girls, 70,’ in 1971, and nothing was going to stop me,” he tells me.
He can put the popcorn-counter career on hold for a bit. “Tootsie” is shaping up to be a very big hit, with 11 Tony nominations, including Best Musical.
Horn and his writing partner, songwriter David Yazbek (“The Band’s Visit”), have pulled off one of the toughest assignments in showbiz. They took a beloved movie and reinvented it as a stage musical that stands on its own. They made a crucial decision early on. Rather than set the story in the world of soap operas, no longer as relevant as they were when the film came out, they moved “Tootsie” to the theater world. Michael Dorsey becomes Dorothy Michaels, who shoots to Broadway stardom.
The new setting immediately eliminated some of the best lines from the movie. There’s no cameraman to say, “How do you feel about Cleveland?” in a Broadway theater, for one thing.
“If we held on to those lines, I knew it would be the tail wagging the dog,” says Horn. “So, David and I came up with our own jokes.”
Some are so good, people may think they’re from the movie. When Dorothy tells her producer (Julie Halston) that she’s the best at what she does, the producer replies, “Sometimes I wish my first husband could look down and see me now. But you know, the bastard is still alive.”
That’s a line worthy of Larry Gelbart, who wrote the “Tootsie” screenplay.
Horn and Yazbek also had to finesse the movie for the #MeToo era. The character of Julie, Dorothy’s co-star and Michael’s love interest, is “a little bit of a victim,” says Horn. “She was with a guy who’s not worthy of her, but she stays in the relationship anyway.” In the film, she becomes a stronger person through her friendship with Dorothy. Horn and Yazbek flipped it: This time, Michael (Tony nominee Santino Fontana) becomes a better person through his friendship with a tough, independent Julie.
“I was a young gay guy raised by strong single mom,” says Horn. “So that’s what I drew on.”
Horn, who’s in his late 50s, never knew his father (“He left when I was born”), and though his mother tried her best to provide for him and his twin sister, she ran out of money, and her children became wards of the state.
Horn scraped by for years in New York, then moved to California in the ’80s to be with his mother. He waited tables and then one night, smoking a joint with a friend who had showbiz connections, came up with an idea for a television pilot. That got him an agent, who lined him up with a job on the writing staff of “Designing Women.”
Horn had a good run in television, but still wanted to write Broadway musicals. He had one, “13,” not a hit, and a near miss, “Moonshine,” based on the TV series “Hee Haw.” But he didn’t put it all together until “Tootsie.”
“I’m glad this was the one,” he says.
His mother, 87, was at the opening. “She beamed with pride,” he says.
You can hear Michael Riedel weekdays on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” on WOR radio 710.
Source: Read Full Article