Spring of 2020 found Heschel alum Lucy Panush in a similar position to many people, including some friends of hers from Heschel: in a virtual lurch with her senior year at Northwestern University cut short due to COVID. But it turned out that her Zoom audition for the First Broadway National Tour of Tootsie: The Musical, a comedy based on the movie of the same name, was a success. Though Lucy got the offer in September 2020, she had to wait until the entire Broadway industry restarted in summer and fall 2021. In time with Broadway reopenings in New York including Wicked and Waitress, the Tootsie tour kicked off in September 2021, joining a number of shows on the road including Ain’t Too Proud and Mean Girls.
Lucy chatted to us from Houston, TX, and Kansas City, MO, just two of the 27 cities on their 9-month itinerary. “I absolutely love being on tour,” she said. “My favorite part is asking the locals of each city their favorite parts of town and going there. In all honesty, I am quite lucky in that this is actually my very first professional theatre gig!”
Of course, it took years of training to get her where she is. After attending Heschel from Nursery to 9th grade, her theatrical education included The School At Steps Pre-Professional Program, where she was dancing 27 hours a week while also going to Children’s Professional School full time, and American Tap Dance Foundation Tap City Youth Ensemble. She studied Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Modern, Contemporary, Hip-Hop, and Theatre Dance, and at Northwestern, enrolled in the School of Communication as a Theatre Major with a certificate in Musical Theatre.
As for all Theatre Major seniors, Lucy created a showcase for managers, agents, and casting directors. But graduation in the pandemic meant that students had to create a series of videos (either monologues or cuts of songs) to send around, instead of a live showcase.
In June 2020, an agent who had seen Lucy’s showcase videos reached out to her and, after seeing Lucy’s rendition of a song from Tootsie called “What’s Gonna Happen” sung by a character named Sandy, asked if she would be interested in submitting for the Tootsie tour. Lucy got called in to audition for Sandy, which required filming herself performing the song she already knew, in addition to two cuts (short scenes), and a dance combo which she taught herself off a video. “This was the beginning of the pandemic so a lot of shows were doing everything virtually, and you had to teach yourself material.”
Two weeks later, Lucy got a callback for Sandy. After setting up her computer, light, and speaker in the living room, she got on a Zoom with the creative team of Tootsie, which included the director, book writer, choreographer, music supervisor, casting team, and some members of the production team, all on the Zoom call. Despite how difficult it was, Lucy says it was one of the best auditions of her life. A second callback followed, this time a chemistry read for Sandy and some actors auditioning for the character of Jeff, the role playing opposite Sandy.
And then? Silence. “Even though I thought I had done a good job, I had to let it go and move on with my life,” she said. And then a month later, to her delight, Lucy got the offer for Ensemble/Understudy Sandy in the Tootsie tour. “When I auditioned I had no intention of... getting it. This industry is just SO competitive. I did it because the opportunity presented itself.”
But of course, in July 2020, actually beginning the position was more than a year away.
“The first day of the rehearsal we found out some actors [like me] had been waiting a year and a half and some had just found out they got it a month before. The casting process for Tootsie had been a long time—but the creatives said ‘you were all hand selected’. I feel it because we have SUCH an AMAZING cast.” Even some of the actors Lucy auditioned with during the Sandy/Jeff chemistry read are part of the company.
Currently in Kansas City, the Tootsie tour will move to Baltimore MD, Washington DC, and Naples FL, all before January 2. “I am just so beyond grateful to be doing this right now and to be bringing laughter to people across the country after this hard (almost 2) year/s,” Lucy said. For tickets to see Lucy and her Tootsie castmates and for tour information, visit https://tootsiemusical.com/.