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


Woman singing on stage in a dress. A man stands behind her, watching.

Payton Reilly performing with Drew Becker in "Tootsie."

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March 07, 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. 

"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.

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