By Nancy Salz – April, 2019
Such a wonderful musical concept – full of promise of singing, dancing and more music to come. Overtures are too often absent from musicals these days, but there the word sits at the top of the “Musical Numbers” list in the Playbill for Tootsie. This is going to be a real, big Broadway musical, I think, and then count the names of 19 players in the orchestra. (That’s large these days.)
Played by musicians under the stage with the conductor visible, it was indeed a terrific overture. A bit short, perhaps, but joyous. Toe-tapping, even. As Tootsie proceeded, the overture’s promise was fulfilled, although not in the way I expected. Tootsie is a wonderful show – but not because of the music by David Yazbek. He wrote the score for The Band’s Visit, but there are no hits like “Omar Sharif” in Tootsie. The score for Tootsie is good but not great. Nor was the promise fulfilled because of the ho-hum choreography by Denis Jones – just as banal as that for his Holiday Inn last season.
What’s best in Tootsie is the hilarious book by Robert Horn – full of perfectly timed one-liners that come at you like balls from a pitching machine – and the cast led by Santino Fontana.
If you saw the 1982 movie starring Dustin Hoffman, you already know the story – sort of. Michael Dorsey is a temperamental, controlling actor who can’t get work. One day he dresses as a woman, auditions for the role of the nurse in a new Romeo and Juliet spin-off on Broadway – not a TV soap opera as in the movie. He gets the part and little by little he molds the entire show around his/her character. The show becomes Juliet’s Nurse!
Dorsey/Michaels falls in love with his Juliet (a wonderful Lilli Cooper) while one of the show’s minor characters, Max Van Horn (played with over-the-top hilarity by John Behlmann) , becomes infatuated with Dorothy. Naturally, Dorsey has to hide his new female identity from his longtime girlfriend, Sandy (a very funny and effective Sarah Stiles) although his middle-aged, potbellied roommate, Jeff, (a totally believable and loveable Andy Grotelueschen) is in on the plot. Dorsey’s agent (a fine, frustrated Michael McGrath) hasn’t a clue that Dorothy Michaels is really Michael Dorsey. Nor do the play’s director (an excellent Reg Rogers) or producer, (Julie Halston whose timing is that of a lifelong comedian. She has the show’s best one-liners.) Just at the end of Act I Dorsey/Michaels gets carried away and kisses Julie on the lips. Then the jinx is in. Wig on, wig off, stuffed bra on, stuffed bra off, somehow it all works out in the end.
Fontana is fantastic as both Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels. Unlike Dustin Hoffman, who always looked like himself as Dorothy (It was the lips, I think), Fontana totally disappears into his feminine disguise. It’s almost confusing and disorienting as you forget what he’s like as a man. Fontana is perfect for this role. One roots for him to win a Tony.
Scott Ellis, who also directed Kiss Me Kate this season, fine-tuned Tootsie to perfection. The entrances and exits. The one-liners. The only quibble is an imitation of the dance-style number stolen, nearly verbatim, from Robin William’s brilliant dance improvisation in the movie of La Cage Aux Folles. A quote is one thing. An entire heist is another.
David Rockwell designed the sets, William Ivey Long the costumes, Donald Holder the lighting and Brian Ronan the sound. An all-star team if ever there was one.
Tootsie is two hours and thirty-five minutes of happy entertainment. And it’s so very, very funny. Boy do we need the laughs right now.
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek; Book by Robert Horn; Directed by Scott Ellis; Choreography by Denis Jones; Music Direction by Andrea Grody; Scenic Design by David Rockwell; Costume Design by William Ivey Long; Lighting Design by Donald Holder; Sound Design by Brian Ronan.
With Santino Fontana, Lilli Cooper, Sarah Stiles, Andy Grotelueschen; Michael McGrath, Reg Rogers, Julie Halston and an ensemble of 17 singer-dancers.