From a classic movie to a modern musical, 'Tootsie's' leading lady talks career, the show, life on tour

March 7, 2022

Adapted from the beloved 1982 Oscar-nominated film, "Tootsie" tells the story of Michael Dorsey, a difficult and pushy actor who struggles to find work until a desperate and daring stunt lands him a career-defining role.  

The national Broadway tour of "Tootsie" will perform at ASU Gammage from March 15–20.  Woman singing on stage in a dress. A man stands behind her, watching. Payton Reilly performing with Drew Becker in "Tootsie." Download Full Image

"Tootsie's" leading lady, Payton Reilly, plays the character of Sandy Lester.  

“Sandy is Michael’s ex-girlfriend and now friend. She's also a struggling actor, but she's not struggling because she's hard to work with; she's struggling because she's not very good,” said Reilly, laughing. “So when she goes to Michael for help with an audition, he says her lines and he does a way better job than her. So she says, 'You're even a better woman than I am!’ And then an idea clicks inside of Michael’s brain, and the hilarity ensues.” 

Winning the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical along with 11 Tony Award nominations, the show’s creators utilized both dialogue and music to transform "Tootsie" into a musical fit for a modern audience while also staying true to the original film. One way this is achieved is through the portrayal of the women in the show.  

The women of "Tootsie" exude a different level of strength and vulnerability than what is seen in the 1982 film.  

“We get to delve farther into Sandy’s mind and into her thought process through song,” Reilly said. “And I think that that goes for all the characters. The audience is able to get inside the characters' minds and into their souls a little bit more, and I think that's very important.” 

Born and raised in a small town in Michigan, Reilly ditched a spring floor for the stage, deciding at a young age to pursue her dreams of acting.  

“For almost 15 years of my life, I was heavily involved in competitive gymnastics. But I did some small theatrical things in school, and my heart was pulling me in that direction. Theater is this world where you could be creative, and it's all about being you and bringing yourself to the table, so I decided I wanted to pursue acting and went in full force,” she said. “I received my BFA in musical theater performance, moved to New York, and that was it.” 

Reilly explains the struggles she faced while trying to make it in such a competitive industry, and how this allows her to personally connect with Sandy.  

“I think every actor can appreciate the struggles that our characters are going through on stage. Acting is a hard career, and it's a hard life that we chose; you constantly are putting yourself out there and are constantly being rejected. I think I really connect to Sandy in that way,” Reilly said.  

Now, she and the rest of her castmates are touring the country, filling theaters with the sound of laughter.  

“I'm having a ball. I feel like I’m getting a front row seat of what our nation has to offer. Getting to travel and experience different cities and towns, it's just something so special,” Reilly said.  

As "Tootsie" makes its way to ASU Gammage, this will be Reilly’s first time in the Grand Canyon state. Not only is she excited for the sunshine, but she can’t wait to bring laughter to Gammage.  

Tootsie has so much heart, plus you will laugh for two hours straight, and I think that's just what everyone needs right now,” she said.

Marketing Assistant, ASU Gammage

2 School of Life Sciences faculty members receive Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award

March 7, 2022

On Feb. 28, the Graduate College at Arizona State University virtually recognized four faculty members from across the university with 2021–22 Outstanding Faculty Mentor Awards. Of those faculty members were two awardees from the School of Life Sciences.

Every year, the Graduate College recognizes outstanding faculty members for their service to the graduate student and postdoctoral scholar communities through mentoring excellence, commitment to professional development and career advancement, and the fostering of inclusive, collaborative academic environments.  Side-by-side portraits of ASU professors Jeffrey Jensen and Janet Neisewander of ASU's School of Life Sciences. Jeffrey Jensen and Janet Neisewander of the School of Life Sciences. Download Full Image

“Having a mentor as a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow is crucial to one’s success and development as both a leader and a scientist,” said Kenro Kusumi, dean of natural sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Janet and Jeffrey demonstrate the overwhelmingly positive impact mentorship can have on a student or postdoc’s trajectory. Their dedication to their students and postdocs, and to the School of Life Sciences community, is truly outstanding. We are tremendously grateful for their contributions.”

Meet the award recipients and learn more about what makes them outstanding mentors: 

Jeffrey Jensen, Outstanding Postdoctoral Mentor

Jensen has served as a professor in the School of Life Sciences, the Center for Evolution and Medicine and the Center for Mechanisms of Evolution since 2016. His research focuses on theoretical and computational population genetics and evolutionary genomics.

He was born and raised in Phoenix and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona. He earned his PhD at Cornell University and did his postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to coming to ASU, he held faculty positions at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Jensen’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the European Research Council and the Swiss National Science Foundation. He is currently funded by an NIH Established-Investigator MIRA award. As a postdoctoral mentor, Jensen believes it is key to appreciate the unique perspectives that each individual brings to the table.

“I have always felt appreciation for all my current and former postdocs. The adviser-advisee relationship is very much a two-way street, and the intellect and dedication of my postdoctoral trainees over the years has contributed at least as much to my career as mine has contributed to theirs,” Jensen said. “As a faculty member, you have the opportunity to recruit and hire the brightest young minds from across the world and work together on the questions that interest you most. I've always felt that postdocs should be treated as colleagues, and not as worker bees. When all parties are freely contributing their full time, energy and ideas, you are virtually guaranteed to end up with better science than any of you could've managed on your own.”

Jensen was nominated by Parul Johri, a postdoctoral research associate in the School of Life Sciences.

“Jeff is one of the best advisers I have seen in my academic career,” Johri said. “He is an excellent and thoughtful mentor, highly invested in the future of each of his lab members. He asked me at the start of my postdoc about my career goals, and has since helped me achieve those. I am very appreciative of everything he has done to make me a better scientist. Most importantly, he has been a constant source of motivation and support throughout my postdoc, which can be especially important during hard times like being on the job market.”

Janet Neisewander, Outstanding Doctoral Mentor

Neisewander has been at the university for over 30 years, serving as a professor in the Department of Psychology, the School of Life Sciences and Barrett, The Honors College at ASU. As a behavioral neuroscientist, she uses animal models to study mechanisms of drug abuse.

Her work contributes to understanding the development and treatment of drug addiction and provides new insights into the brain mechanisms involved in emotional processing, learning and memory.

Neisewander earned her bachelor’s degree from Rockford University and graduate degrees from the University of Kentucky. She completed her postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to coming to ASU, she held positions at the University of Kentucky and the University of Pennsylvania. After learning that she was selected for the award, Neisewander said she was thrilled and filled with gratitude for her students.

“I was very excited, and I actually felt a little funny being rewarded for something that I enjoy doing,” Neisewander said. “As I was thinking about it, I came to realize that my students should share the award with me because I have learned as much from them as they have from me. It's been a highly rewarding experience.”

Throughout her career, Neisewander has persevered in spite of the challenges she has encountered as a woman in a male-dominated field.

“It has taken a lot of resilience, really,” she said. “It's important to be heard and not to become discouraged. Women and other underrepresented individuals need to remember that they belong at the table, and that having diverse teams working on problems is the best way to find solutions. With time, more and more people are realizing this. I have already seen progress being made in that direction in my 30 years, but we still have a ways to go. Being aware of what individuals need to feel supported will help everyone to thrive.”

Neisewander was nominated by Mark Namba, a graduate student studying neuroscience.

“Dr. Neisewander has a unique ability to nurture the individual creativity and intellect of her students, and helps them reach their goals no matter what they are. She is a lifelong mentor to so many people, both within and outside of her lab, and she has been committed to training students from all walks of life her entire career," Namba said. "For these reasons, I was honored to have had the opportunity to nominate her for the Outstanding Doctoral Mentor Award.”

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences