Marquis Theatre, New York City
From March 29
There’s a line early in “Tootsie’ in which Michael (Santino Fontana) tells of his secure of role after auditioning in drag as a woman about how this means he will have to take a pay cut. Although funny because it is true, it also represents the show’s obvious commitment to updating aspects of the sensibility of what, from a 2019 perspective, is a somewhat troublesome premise: a belligerent out of work actor without reflective capacity decides to transform into a woman to obtain a role, effectively taking a woman’s job. According given these changing times, a number of me-too nods appear throughout the show, which do not always sit well but also do not detract from the nostalgic value of this guilty pleasure 1982 Dustin Hoffman movie.
There are a number of alterations from the musical’s source material, beyond just addition of songs. The soap opera show on which Michael is employed as Dorothy Michaels is now a Broadway musical adaptation of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which allows for a lot of fabulous jokes, especially as her much younger former ‘Bachelor Island’ type reality star co-star Max Van Horn (John Behlmann) tries to tackle its dialogue as Romeo’s brother, sans shirt of course before life imitating art sees him obsessing over her.
Despite the changes, some scenes are wonderfully replicated, like when Dorothy tells Director Ron (Reg Rogers) not to call her darling. And her iconic sequinned red dress makes an appearance just before interval in celebration of her success, ‘Unstoppable’.
After Act One ends with Michael as Dorothy kissing co-star Julie Nichols (Lilli Cooper), Act Two opens with the follow-up number ‘Jeff Sums It Up’ by Michael’s droll, unsuccessful playwright roommate Jeff (Andy Grotelueschen), who serves almost as the voice of audience in his narration of events.
The cast is a solid one. Sarah Stiles projects an appropriate manic energy as Michael’s out of work actor friend Sandy, a ‘strange and chaotic woman’ who cyclones on and off stage, leaving the audience thoroughly entertained in every instance. Indeed, her first, comic patter, song ‘What’s Gonna Happen’, in which she outlines her various neuroses is a highlight of the ‘Model Behaviour’ “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” sort.
Julie Halston is similarly memorable as producer Rita, eager to empower her show with an older feminist message after ‘Dorothy’ suggests having the Nurse appear as the object of Romeo’s brother’s affection. And Cooper showcases some strong vocals, especially in Act Two’s ‘Gone, Gone, Gone”. However, credit must go of course to Fontana’s energy and stamina for his seamless portrayal of Michael/ Dorothy, which includes a number of quick changes on stage.
Like its movie source material, the musical comedy “Tootsie” is a charming way to spend a couple of hours. The show is not particularly innovative, but is a real crowd please with lots of laughs courtesy of its puns and innuendo along the way to Michael realising that being a woman is no job for a man. Its songs are enjoyable, even if they are not necessarily individually memorable beyond ‘Unstoppable’, and are showcase the obviously talented musicians of its orchestra, along with its overture act openers.