A great big old fashioned Broadway musical comedy hit, Tootsie is as delightfully fanciful as it is deliriously funny.
Part of the current wave of movie-to-stage adaptions, Tootsie achieves particular success by building upon its source material rather than slavishly recreating it. Book writer Robert Horn eschews the heightened world of daytime soap operas, which were at their zenith when the original movie was made in 1982.
The musical is updated to the present, with doggedly quarrelsome actor Michael Dorsey now finding fame, as dear Dorothy Michaels, on Broadway, allowing for any number of sharply observed in-jokes. With experience in writing television sitcoms, Horn proves to be the king of the one-liner, with the laughs coming thick and fast, especially as Michael/Dorothy’s web of subterfuge is stretched to breaking point.
Prolific Broadway composer David Yazbek matches the hectic comic pace of the book scenes with a briskly uptempo score. In line with his previous work, much of Yazbek’s snappy songs are more focused on lyrics than on melody, but a couple of toe-tapping tunes emerge as the show unfolds.
Director Scott Ellis keeps the characterisations broad, but also shows great trust in the power of the pause. Audience disbelief in Michael’s deception is happily suspended, and the comedy races along with a nicely judged serving of social commentary. The story raises questions while avoiding pat solutions, right through to its final scene.
Choreographer Denis Jones provides sharp movement for the somewhat underused ensemble, and proves a good sport in allowing his craft to be mercilessly lampooned by Yazbek’s lyrics when show-within-a-show director/choreographer Ron Carlisle uses everyday terms to teach his cliched choreography.
The creative team features Broadway’s best designers. David Rockwell’s settings are a deft blend of stylised skyscrapers and realistic interiors. William Ivey Long again serves up his signature fast change outfits, which are used to delightful effect when Juliet’s Curse switches, at Dorothy’s suggestion, from medieval times to 1950s Fellini, all delectable swooshing skirts in luscious shades of pink.
Santino Fontana achieves the impressive feat of not just adopting a female speaking voice but also a convincingly feminine singing voice. The role raises questions in regard to gender inequity, and Fontana’s gentle manner ensures that Michael’s sensitivity rings true. This is an epic performance, one that deserves its must-see status in Broadway folklore.
Standouts in the supporting cast include Andy Grotelueschen in the Norbert Leo Butz-like role of Michael’s schlubby roommate Jeff. John Behlmann scores laughs as exceptionally dim hunk Max Van Horn, a contestant from “Race to Bachelor Island” who has turned to acting.
Veteran Julie Halston is all class as producer Rita Marshall. Fellow stalwart Michael McGrath makes the most of featured role of Michael’s frazzled agent Stan Fields.
The slick combination of high production values, top class performances and sharp writing make Tootsie a highly recommended show, with lovers of musical theatre set to find extra joy in Tootsie’s Broadway setting.
Tootsie was reviewed 7.30pm Monday 1 July 2019 at Marquis Theatre, New York.
Photos: Matthew Murphy