Review of Tootsie, starring Santino Fontana, on Broadway

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    April 24, 2019
    Review by:

    Broadway's Marquis Theatre was previously home, nearly a quarter of a century ago, to a film to stage version of Victor/Victoria that saw Julie Andrews recreating her film role as a female performer who adopts a male persona to become a star in a Paris nightclub. Now, the roles are reversed in another film-to-stage musical adaptation Tootsie at the same theatre, in which a failing actor, known for being difficult and whose agent has just dumped him, decides to pretend to be a woman instead and instantly lands a lead role in a new Broadway musical (as opposed to a daytime television soap in the 1982 film).

    It's part of the joke that the show looks pretty terrible: it's a musical sequel to Romeo and Juliet called Juliet's Curse (I hope this isn't a bad omen for the forthcoming West End premiere of a show called & Juliet). In fact, part of the multiple pleasures of the show is its knowingness; we are once again, as with shows from Kiss Me, Kate (in which its characters are putting on a terrible version of The Taming of the Shrew) to The Producers (the show-within-the-show is a dire musical called Springtime for Hitler), in the business of satirising show business itself, and the vanities and insanities of the people who work in it.

    Composer/lyricist David Yazbek, who won the 2018 Tony Award for "Best Original Score" for his work on The Band's Visit (itself named "Best Musical"), is one of the most accomplished of musical pastiche stylists around today, and -- like the late, great Cy Coleman -- has a chameleon-like quality to adapt his own sound to the context. Here you can hear his brassy signatures but he also has a lot of fun by creating hilarious songs that illuminate character, whether its the scatty actress former girlfriend of the lead (brilliantly played by Sarah Stiles) or the impossibly vain director of the show-within-the-show (Reg Rogers).

    The show stands or falls largely on the startlingly plausible shoulders of Santino Fontana as Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels -- and there's no question that this reliable star of such musicals as R&H's Cinderella has made a break-out, star-making turn here that turns him into a leading player. But director Scott Ellis surrounds him with valuable supporting actors, including Andy Grotelueschen as his flatmate and Broadway bar co-worker, Lilli Cooper as Dorothy's musical co-star whom he falls for, and John Behlmann as another co-star who falls for Dorothy. They, and Robert Horn's book, all have serious comedy smarts. In fact, there's probably not a funnier cast on Broadway right now, with such comic veterans as Julie Halston (playing a producer) and Michael McGrath (as Michael's agent), also on hand.

    It's great to be having fun at a Broadway musical again, and this show is just the ticket for fans of old-fashioned musical comedy.

    (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

    "As a critic, I feel it’s my responsibility to tell you what’s wrong with Tootsie, the musical comedy that opened on Tuesday at the Marquis Theater. But nah. Let me tell you instead what’s right. It’s a musical. And it’s a comedy. That might seem like faint praise. But over the decades, the genre that brought us Guys and Dolls has withered into a damp tangle of wan jokes floating in a slick of ditties."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "This one is out to give you a good time, and that’s just what it does. Tootsie rocks. Tootsie rolls. Tootsie pops."
    Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

    "Even with a score by Tony winner David Yazbek, Tootsie doesn’t feel so much like a razzmatazz musical as it does a sitcom in its prime. With a slate of mean, neurotic New York characters getting themselves into impossibly wacky scenarios, it’s practically “Seinfeld: Live!” With killer jokes to match."
    Johhny Oleksinski for New York Post

    "Alongside a sparkling script and a situation that was pure comedy gold, the key element that made Sydney Pollack's 1982 movie Tootsie such a warmly pleasurable farce was the fact that Dustin Hoffman's frustrated actor Michael Dorsey doesn't just slip on a dress, wig and heels and assume a female voice to pass himself off as actress Dorothy Michaels, he creates a three-dimensional character. She's the fanatical actor's greatest role. Sure, the insufferable perfectionist that blew a thousand auditions is still in there, but Dorothy also is a fully realized individual. She thinks and acts with her own instincts, experiencing the realities of working in a demoralizingly sexist industry in a way Michael never could.That applies no less to Santino Fontana's extraordinary dual-role performance in this madly entertaining stage musical adaptation."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "The new Broadway adaptation of Tootsie is old-fashioned and proud of it — and it’s a surefire crowd-pleaser, in this musical spin on the 1982 film comedy with Santino Fontana in the Dustin Hoffman role."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety