By Donna Herman
Ladies and gentlemen, strap on your best bra and slip into your most sensible pumps and run, don’t walk over to the Marquis Theatre to see Tootsie. It’s the most successful and smartest transfer of a big screen comedy into a stage musical I’ve seen. It’s both witty and laugh-out-loud funny, and the entire cast is a bunch of seasoned pros at the top of their game. Truthfully, I can’t wait to see it again.
Tootsie the musical doesn’t slavishly follow the plot of the original movie but takes the general outline and characters and updates it, setting it on Broadway instead of the soap opera world. A clever choice that allows for some inside jokes. I was lucky enough to see it the night the Tony Awards were announced, and it had received 11 nominations, among them a well-deserved nod to the actor playing the titular role, Santino Fontana. During the second act, when agent Stan (Michael McGrath) discovers his annoying and universally hated client, actor Michael Dorsey, has been masquerading as Dorothy Michaels and become the toast of Broadway, he’s livid. He shouts “They say you’ll be nominated for a Tony! I was gonna vote for you!” The action of the play stopped for a good few minutes as the audience cheered and whistled acknowledging Fontana’s actual nomination. Mr. Fontana had to visibly hold himself together.
The other smart choice made by Book writer Robert Horn is to deal with the decidedly pre-feminist, pre #MeToo sensibility of the 1982 movie directly and quickly. The first place Michael goes when he gets cast in a female role as Dorothy, still dressed as Dorothy, is to the bar/restaurant where his roommate and best friend Jeff (Andy Grotelueschen who also received a Tony nod for Featured Actor in a Musical for this role) works. After flirting with him as Dorothy and then revealing himself as Michael, Jeff is less than impressed and immediately shoots him down:
JEFF: You can’t be serious? At a time when women are literally clutching their power back from between the legs of men, you have the audacity to take a job away from one by perpetrating one?
MICHAEL: You’re not focusing on the positive here, Jeff. I got the part! I won!
JEFF: No. You didn’t. You’re pretending to be a woman to get a job! And you know you’ll have to take a pay cut.
Tootsie is a classic Broadway musical with a veteran cast and crew that has taken advantage of the tried-and-true out-of-town tryout route to success. Director Scott Ellis has delivered a sharp as a tack production that walks the fine line between hitting every laugh dead center and shtick without ever falling on the wrong side of that line. Helping him navigate that line is the canniest cast of character actors assembled on one stage in a long time. From Sarah Stiles as Sandy, Michael’s most miserable ex-girlfriend (who also got a Tony nod), to Reg Rogers as Ron Carlisle, the slimiest scum-bucket of a director who ever stalked a casting couch, to the sublime Julie Halston as the tough-as-nails Broadway producer Rita Marshall who doesn’t miss a trick. And of course, Santino Fontana as Michael/Dorothy delivers in every way possible. As Michael he’s completely unlikeable and obnoxious, and as Dorothy absolutely charming and irresistible. Acclaimed designer William Ivey Long also deserves his Tony nod for the costumes, which turn Michael into a feminine figure of some allure. If he could only do the same for me!
Tootsie Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek, Book by Robert Horn, Directed by Scott Ellis, Choreographed by Denis Jones
WITH: Santino Fontana (Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels); Lilli Cooper (Julie Nichols); Sarah Stiles (Sandy Lester); John Behlmann (Max Van Horn); Andy Grotelueschen (Jeff Slater); Julie Halston (Rita Marshall); Michael McGrath (Stan Fields); Reg Rogers (Ron Carlisle); James Moye (Carl/Ensemble); Nick Spangler (Stuart/Ensemble); Britney Coleman (Suzie/Ensemble); Paula Leggett Chase (Ensemble); Leslie Donna Flesner (Ensemble); John Arthur Greene (Ensemble); Drew King (Ensemble); Harris Milgrim (Ensemble); Shina Ann Morris (Ensemble); Katerina Papacostas (Ensemble)’ Diana Vaden (Ensemble); Anthony Wayne (Ensemble).
ORCHESTRA: Andrea Associate Grody (Conductor/Music Supervisor/Keyboard 2); Andy Peterson (Associate Conductor/Keyboard 1); Spencer Cohen (Drums/Percussion); Grant Braddock (Timpani/ Mallet/Afro-Cuban/Middle Eastern/African Percussion); Logan Coale (Electric & Acoustic Bass); Steve Roberts (Electric & Acoustic Guitar/Mandolin); Andrew Sterman (Alto Sax/Flute/Piccolo/Soprano Recorder); Marc Phaneuf (Tenor Sax/Clarinet/Flute/Soprano Sax); Alden Bana (Baritone Sax/Bass Clarinet/ Alto Flute/Clarinet); Trevor D. Neumann (Lead Trumpet/Flugelhorn); Jeremy Miloszewicz (Trumpet/Flugelhorn); David Neves (Trumpet); Michael Boschen (Trombone); Joe Barati (Bass Trombone); RJ Kelley (French Horn); Mazz Swift (Violin 1/Concertmaster); Michael Hunter (Violin 2); Jessica Troy (Viola); Emily Hope Price (Cello).
Scenic Design by David Rockwell; Costume Design by William Ivey Long; Lighting Design by Donald Holder; Sound Design by Brian Ronan; Hair & Wig Design by Paul Huntley; Make-Up Design by Angelina Avallone; Casting by Jim Carnahan, CSA; Music Supervision by Andrea Grody & Dean Sharenow; Vocal and Incidental Arrangements by Andrea Grody; Dance Arrangements by David Chase; Orchestrations by Simon Hale; Music Coordinator, Dean Sharenow; Production Management by Aurora Productions; Production Stage Manager, Scott Taylor Rollison; Matthew Lacey, Stage Manager; Associate Choreographer, Barry Busby; Associate Director, Dave Solomon. Presented by Scott Sanders and Carol Fineman, Lead Producers at the Marquis Theatre, 210 West 46th Street, NYC. For tickets visit ticketmaster.com or call 877-250-2929. Or visit the Marquis Theatre box office at 210 West 46th Street inside the Marriott Marquis Hotel Mon-Sat 10am to 8pm and Sun 12pm to 6pm. Running time 2 hours and 35 minutes with one intermission.