Meet the Tony Nominees: Sarah Stiles of ‘Tootsie’

Sarah Stiles stars as Sandy Lester in the hit musical Tootsie. The show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, including Best New Musical and a Best Featured Actress in a Musical nod for Stiles. Based on the 1982 film, the musical follows Michael Dorsey, a talented actor with a reputation for being difficult. When he can’t get hired he pretends to be a woman to land a big role in a Broadway musical. Stiles masterfully plays Sandy, a struggling actress who is a bundle of nerves and insecurities. She is also Michael’s ex. Stiles was a showstopper in the play Hand To God, which also earned her a Tony nomination. In addition to Stiles, Tootsie stars Santino Fontana as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, Lilli Cooper as Julie Nichols, John Behlmann as Max Van Horn, Andy Grotelueschen as Jeff Slater, Julie Halston as Rita Marshall, Michael McGrath as Stan Fields and Reg Rogers as Ron Carlisle. Stiles’ Broadway credits also include On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Avenue Q and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Can you take us to when you first learned about this part?
Sarah Stiles: When they sent me the script, I read it immediately and knew it was special. Sandy leapt out of the page to me. It was one of those experiences where I thought, “I hear her,” immediately. I knew exactly who she is, and how I would approach it. And that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes you need a little more work. l could feel her heart. Because at the core of it, she is someone who could be interpreted as kind of victim-y and annoying. But she isn’t at all. I found her so lovable and relatable. And I knew I wanted to take care of her. I had the same feeling with Jessica in Hand To God. I felt, “I know who this person is. I want to tell her story. I want to do her justice because she is a really special person. Their story is going to mean something to other people.” I find that a lot of young girls come to the show. They talk to me and say they relate so much to Sandy. It is so nice to be able to connect on that level.

What was one of the first Broadway shows you ever saw?
SS: I grew up in New Hampshire. So the very first big musical theater show I saw was the road show of Les Misèrables in Boston. I was in the sixth grade and on the edge of my seat. I think I stopped breathing. So much so that I got a horrible leg cramp. But I wouldn’t tell my parents because I didn’t want to leave. I remember looking at all of the people on stage and thinking, “I could do that. Maybe that is an option?”

And on Broadway, the first show I saw was Jekyll and Hyde. I was out of high school by that point. I walked into the theater with this giant group of people. There was all this buzz, energy and sound. The lights went down, and I got goosebumps all over thinking about what I was about to see. The audience collectively took this giant breath in anticipation. You think, “They are going to come out and entertain me right in front of my face.” Theater is so special.

When did you know you had to perform?
SS: My mother always says that I was born performing. I have hippie parents. I was born at home with a midwife to a room full of people. And when I came out, my mother says they all applauded. Very early, I started doing dance and gymnastics. Then I figured out how to sing and use my instrument. And by the time I could make people laugh – not just my family, but other people laugh – I was hooked. There was nothing else.

By Jeryl Brunner

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