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'I was crying laughing': Meet the University of Texas grad in the ensemble of 'Tootsie'

Kelsey Bradshaw
Austin 360
"Tootsie" is about an actor who can't seem to book a role until he starts dressing up like a woman.

Have you heard of the musical "Tootsie?" If you haven't that's OK! It's new. 

"Tootsie" the musical is based on "Tootsie" the movie, starring Dustin Hoffman. The movie and stage versions tell the story of Michael Dorsey, an actor who is struggling to find work until he decides to dress up as a woman. 

The show made it to Broadway for the first time in 2019. It starred Santino Fontana as Michael Dorsey. 

"Tootsie" comes to Austin for a Feb. 22-27 run at Bass Concert Hall.

We caught up with Stefanie Renee Salyers, who graduated from the University of Texas in 2017, ahead of the show. Salyers is in the ensemble for "Tootsie."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

American-Statesman: I was really excited when I found out we had a Texan to talk to. This is your first national tour right? How’s it going? How’d you get the gig? Were you familiar with the story?

Stefanie Renee Salyers: It is, yes. It’s going really well. So I, of course, had seen the movie growing up and I had seen the Broadway show as well, so I was familiar with the project. It was kind of a very quick turnaround with me joining the tour. I joined about a month ago. I just got an email from my agent and they were like, “Hey, submit some materials for Tootsie.” I was like, “OK whatever.“ I sent some materials. Usually you just send your things and don’t think about it again. Then on Christmas, my agent called me and was like, "Hey, so do you want to go on the 'Tootsie' tour because you're going on the 'Tootsie' tour."  ... So yeah, it was kind of like really fast and kind of a whirlwind but it's such a fun time. I'm really loving it.

Stefanie Renee Salyers graduated from the University of Texas in 2017. "Tootsie" is her first national tour.

Where were you when you got the call?

I was in Austin. I was in my kitchen. I was feeding the dog.

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For the people who don’t know what being in a show’s ensemble means, could you explain that and tell us where people can spot you in the show?

As the ensemble, we kind of play all of the other characters besides the main characters. You'll always see us in the background of a scene. We’re also in all the big dance numbers. We're the dancers who kind of support the story and kind of fill in the spaces so you can see us pretty much all the time. 

What can the audience expect from the show?

It's so funny. It's one of the funniest shows I've seen. When I watched it, I was crying laughing. It's so funny. The characters are crazy, outlandish, hysterical. If you love theater or you're familiar with theater, it's really a love letter to theater. There's a lot of funny bits of the ins and outs of working in theater, working in New York City. It's a really fun kind of look inside the world from a very crazy story’s point of view. It's a really great time and you will be laughing and crying laughing like I was.

So, you went to high school near San Antonio, went to college in Austin and then you’re still here in your off-time, right?

I kind of go back and forth between Austin and New York City. I’ve been mostly in Austin since the pandemic. I went to UT Austin. I did theater around Austin. I worked at Zach Theatre quite a bit. I trained at Ballet Austin growing up. I love Austin. It’s my favorite place to be. My family's there, the best food is there.

What’s it like being a Texas girl in the Broadway world?

It’s very interesting. When I first moved to New York City quite a few years ago it was definitely a culture shock. It almost felt like in the movies when you're walking in New York City and every one is walking fast. I learned to walk really fast. Luckily, I’m small and can squeeze through people to get to where I gotta go. It's definitely very different but I do love New York City. The Broadway and theater community in New York is very strong and powerful. Once you know somebody, you have that connection forever. I got to meet so many amazing people and other Texans as well. It’s really lovely. I really enjoy it.

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Did you ever go to any shows at Bass Concert Hall as a student?

I did and I went when I was a student and I've gone after as well. I saw "The Little Mermaid" there a few years ago and I saw some concerts there. I saw Macklemore. The Bass Concert Hall is awesome. 

"Tootsie" the musical is based on the movie "Tootsie," which starred Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr and Bill Murray.

How do you feel coming back and being the one performing?

Oh my god, I’m so excited. It's kind of like a dream to do a Broadway tour in the town where your family lives. It's like an honor. I'm so excited to get to be the one on stage performing the way I have been watching people perform theater in Bass Concert Hall in Austin for so long.

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You're also going to go right from Austin to San Antonio, so you're really getting to do a hometown tour. 

I'm really excited, and when I was little I performed at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio as well. So I'm excited to perform there, too. It is a little hometown tour.

Are you going to show your fellow cast members what your favorite things are to do in Austin?

Oh absolutely. We're definitely going downtown. I'll show them Sixth Street, I'll show them Rainey Street and we’re going to Torchy's Tacos. 

Did you always know you wanted to be a performer?

I did. I started my performance career as a ballet dancer, doing "Nutcrackers" and things like that. When I was in college, I just decided I wanted to explore theater and see if it was right for me and I decided, yup, it's right for me. I moved to New York City. It's always been for me. I was always meant to be a performer, I believe. 

What was that lightbulb moment for you?

It wasn't even a moment. I just found myself constantly being like, "OK, I want to do another show, what's the next show I'm going to audition for?" And it's like, this is my life now and this is what I'm doing forever, I want to do this. I'm already planning it out in my head without thinking about it, so it became a natural progression in my life.

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What's your dream role?

I'd love to be Anita in "West Side Story." That would be so amazing. 

OK for my last question, I have to know: What city has the best tacos? Austin or San Antonio?

Oh, Austin. Sorry, San Antonio.

Where's your favorite place to get a taco here? 

Oh my gosh it's been a minute since I've had a taco. I do love Torchy's and I love ATX Cocina. They are delicious and they also have really great margaritas. 

IF YOU GO

'Tootsie'

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Bass Concert Hall on the University of Texas campus,

Cost: $35 to $125, plus fees.

Information: texasperformingarts.org and austin.broadway.com.