Review by Sandi Durell
This is a season for movies gone wild on Broadway (Pretty Woman, Network, To Kill A Mockingbird). But it’s Robert Horne’s (creator of Designing Women) cleverly written madcap book and Grammy Winner David Yazbek’s music and lyrics (The Band’s Visit) that add up to the words BIG HIT! Delving into an iconic, best-loved film inspired by seeing Dustin Hoffman (Sidney Pollack’s 1982 film) in the ever- memorable role of Michael Dorsey could be a crapshoot.
But as director Scott Ellis tells it, he knew that it was Santino Fontana (otherwise known as an amazing Broadway triple threat) who was to be the arrogant, big-mouthed perfectionist, know it all failing actor Michael Dorsey, who gets the boot from every director because he knows better. In this dual role, Fontana is now the incredible female version as the padded spanx-clad Dorothy Michaels who unknowingly becomes the feminist voice for women’s rights. A big mouth is a big mouth no matter how one dresses!
Unable to land any role – even his agent Stan (Michael McGrath) wants nothing more to do with him – Michael decides it’s time to try a new approach to getting a part, even if it has to be in female gear, where he unwittingly catches the eye of theater producer Rita Marshall (always hilarious Julie Halston) when, as Dorothy Michaels, he wiggles his fanny into the audition for the same role as ex-girl friend, “open bar of emotions,” neurotic neighbor Sandy (literally hysterical Sarah Stiles) who was just given a ‘thank you very much…. next’ at the same audition. Sandy is described as such by Michael’s loser roommate, wannabee playwright Jeff (a perfect Andy Groteluschen). Kooky super funny egocentric Reg Rogers, as writer-director Ron Carlisle, cow-tows to Rita’s millions as backer and hires Dorothy.
As wont to happen on Broadway, especially at this sensitive moment in time, Tootsie speaks to oodles of laugh out loud audiences in this ingenious raucous comedy that relates to gender issues and is oh so politically correct!
Instead of seeing Michael in a TV soap opera as the outspoken nurse, he has been transformed in this absurdist extravaganza in a play within a play – – a kind of Romeo and Juliet entitled Juliet’s Curse, where he learns the art of give and take and falls for the leading lady Julie (a spectacular Lilli Cooper). Dorothy is now Juliet’s Nurse! Air-head TV Reality Star Max Van Horn (a work of six pack art, John Behlmann) as Romeo, is a hoot as he butchers lines (“a plaque on both your houses”), his delivery cause for out loud guffaws; developing a crush on Dorothy saying she’s sexy, built like a tractor and giving pause to Yazbek’s lyrics in “That Thing.”
The cast of Juliet’s Nurse is thrilled with Dorothy as she begins to understand that men and women are very different – “women listen to each other.”
Well, we all know how the plot unwinds given added padding in this caricature-ish reimagining filled with many melodic songs of storyteller proportions like the words, words, words of Sandy’s “What’s Gonna Happen?” – a perfect emotional wreck song. Dorothy’s nurse anthem “I Won’t Let You Down,” shows off her feminine muster while taking charge of key and tempo changes and standing fast.
There’s no doubt that Santino Fontana (in his falsetto voice, high heels and red sequin dress among others, brilliantly designed by William Ivey Long) rises to the occasion capturing the essence of Dorothy Michaels and Michael Dorsey, making this a probable shoe-in for a Tony.
Kudos to lighting designer Donald Holder; sound designer Brian Ronan and Wig/Hair designer Paul Huntley.
The company numbers, choreographed by the remarkable Denis Jones, know no bounds in their effort to be outlandish. David Rockwell’s transformational set of New York (inside and out) gives us the kitsch it deserves and skyline and shabby apartment interiors. Denis Jones gives Reg Rogers, as choreographer, dance routines ‘Fosse! Fosse! And Fontana as Michael/Dorothy gets what it’s all about . . . “Being a woman is no job for a man.”
Photos: Matthew Murphy
Tootsie – you’ll laugh a lot and walk out happy from the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway, NY – run time 2 hrs. 35 min (one intermission) www.tootsiemusical.com