By Barry Reszel
Don’t confuse Tootsie the musical with Tootsie the 1982 Sydney Pollack-directed film starring Dustin Hoffman.
And given the film’s success then (10 Oscar noms and a bunch more accolades) and popularity 35+ years later (especially in the theatrical community), that is a huge compliment.
This most recent of the movies in late baby boomers’ halls of fame to be transformed into a Broadway musical, an exhaustive list is here, Tootsie gets it right. With a contemporary book re-write by first-time playwright Robert Horn, this Tootsie is everything a Broadway musical-comedy should be. The bitingly smart, hilarious book is supplemented by a songbook with lyrics of equal wit and tunes that keep the story moving at a quick pace. Quite simply, this is a Chicago tryout of a work nearly ready for New York’s brightest lights.
The musical’s story, a tweak from the movie, centers around 40-year-old Michael Dorsey, a pain-in-the-ass New York stage actor who’s ostracized himself from all directors with his pretentious, know-it-all, better-than everyone attitude. To get cast in a new musical, he poses as a woman, Dorothy Michaels; beats out his best gal pal for the part; keep secrets; falls in love with his co-star who then believes she’s developing lesbian tendencies; and ultimately comes clean and confesses to the wreckage he’s created.
It’s all wrapped in a fast-paced score by David Yazbek, who won this year’s Best Original Score Tony for The Band’s Visit. Indeed, this songbook harkens some of his Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown along with elements of Jason Robert Brown‘s Last Five Years and Alan Menken‘s Newsies. And while the overall songbook pulls the story along exceedingly well, here’s wishing there were just two songs (an anthem and a ballad) that patrons leave the theatre humming.
Extraordinary Director Scott Ellis keeps the pace quick, leading his star, Santino Fontana (Prince Charming in the most recent Broadway Cinderella), in a phenomenal performance as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels. His gorgeous voice is supplemented by quick comic timing. And that’s important, because Tootsie is primarily a a load of laughs, and Fontana’s supporting cast is loaded with comedic talent. Three in particular help seal this production’s comedic genius. Lilli Cooper is the lovely young Broadway actress, Julie Nichols, starring in a musical sendup to Romeo and Juliet. Sarah Stiles is the frenetically neurotic actress friend, Sandy Lester, who is simply all that. Andy Grotelueschen, Michael’s roommate and best friend, Jeff Slater, is the perfect “I told you so” foil.
As to be expected for a show already in the Broadway queue, the technical elements are there. Denis Jones‘ upbeat choreography; Andrea Grody‘s pitch-perfect musical direction and conducting; David Rockwell’s contemporary, kaleidoscopic scenic design; Donald Holder’s perfect lighting; Brian Ronan’s clear sound design; William Ivey Long‘s splendid costumes; and Paul Huntley’s perfect hair and wigs along with Angelina Avallone’s excellent makeup rounds out the backstage creative talent. ge tattoo that draws much laughter.
If there’s a significant change between now and this fine production’s New York opening next spring, it should be to change the look of Dorothy Michaels. It may just be the opinion of one opinionated late baby boomer typing this, but those of a certain age will be unable to discern the Tootsie feminine alter ego from Dana Carvey‘s “Church Lady” character of Saturday Night Live shows past. While it could be a purposeful nod to the generation, it’s unnecessary and distracting. Dorothy Michaels is certainly her own woman.
That’s exactly what a great musical book can do: take a story, even a familiar one, and bring it into modern times with a proper tip of the cap to nostalgia. Surround it with talent and retell the story in an exciting way, reflective of how far society has come. Tootsie is all of that and then some. It’s going to have audiences laughing all the way to the Tonys. Do not miss it.
Broadway in Chicago presents “Tootsie” through October 14 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Julieta Cervantes.