Bob Goepfert Reviews "Tootsie"

May 14, 2019

NEW YORK, N.Y. -  There’s been a trend on Broadway to adapt films into musicals.  This season alone there’s been “Pretty Woman,” “Frozen,” and “Mean Girls.”   Most have been flawed because they tend to copy the original rather than be creative with the material.

Thankfully, “Tootsie,” the newest film-to-musical entry avoids that trap to create a charming, enjoyable and immensely entertaining Broadway musical.

The show sticks to the original premise of the 1982 film that starred Dustin Hoffman.   Michael Dorsey is an ambitious actor who is chronically unemployed because of his meddlesome attitude in what he claims is a pursuit of excellence. Desperate for work, he goes to an audition dressed as a mature female to get a job.   He not only gets it, it becomes a starring role.  

He becomes trapped by success, which prevents him from being able to reveal that Dorothy Michaels is really a man.  It gets complicated as he falls in love with his costar, who reciprocates his feelings, but thinks she is falling in love with a woman.   Too, there is a male supporting actor who becomes comically smitten with Dorothy.

While the core story is the same, the creators change Dorothy from starring in a television soap opera to playing the role of Nurse in a rather bad musical titled “Juliet’s Curse.”    It’s a sequel to “Romeo & Juliet,”  in which Juliet survived death in the tomb.   

It’s a wise move that provides natural inclusions for some song and dance numbers.   But, as in most good musicals, the really memorable moments come from personal songs in which characters grapple with their emotions.  

Indeed, the score by David Yazbek lacks the lingering beauty of his work with “The Band’s Visit,” but it is no shame to call his work functional in that it supports every scene without trying to steal it.  You aren’t likely to be in a rush to buy the cast album, but you’ll enjoy the score while in the theater.

The performances are outstanding. Santino Fontana is simply terrific as Michael/Dorothy.   He is able to make the compulsive Michael a nice guy and you understand why people are drawn to his Dorothy.  He never forces a moment.  

Fontana kills with the number “I Won’t Let You Down” sung by Dorothy and is just as sincere as Michael in the duet “Who Are You?” with the lovely leading lady and love of his life, Julie. And his comic timing is perfection.

However, the secret ingredient to the entire show is the work of the supporting cast.  Yes, Julie is a lead and played wonderfully by Lilli Cooper.   But the others, whether it be Michael’s deliciously comic roommate Jeff, his neurotic ex-girlfriend Sandy, the ego-driven director Ron, the dense actor Max, or his frustrated agent Stan - each and every one makes an enormous contribution.

With the highest praise, I compare the relationships between the characters who randomly find themselves in Michael’s apartment to those found in one of the best episodes of “Seinfeld.”    Everyone is natural, quick-witted and obviously fond of each other.  

Praise has to go to book writer Robert Horn for developing these characters and for writing so many clever one-liners.  

He improves on an already good story by being aware that the story takes place in a time-period sensitive to issues of female equality.  The issues are acknowledged without being heavy-handed.  

And let’s give credit to director Scott Ellis who knows how to make a pause as funny as a well-delivered joke.  This is a well-paced, flowing show that rarely has an uninteresting moment.   

“Tootsie” is simply a fun musical, and that makes it a special show.  

It’s at the Marquis Theatre on 46thStreet in NYC for an open run.  Ticketmaster at 1-877-250-2929

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

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