Funny and likeable ‘Tootsie’ dressed and ready for New York Broadway bow
by Philip Potempa
When the 1982 film “Tootsie” showed up on the big screen in movie theaters, with larger-than-life funny characters mixed-up in screwball comedy life situations, I remember my parents taking myself and my siblings to see the box office hit. It had an all-star cast with Dustin Hoffman as the title character joined by Teri Garr, Jessica Lange, Bill Murray and Dabney Coleman.
Broadway In Chicago and Scott Sanders Productions have united to welcome “Tootsie” back as a new Broadway comedy musical to introduce this lipstick and red sequin heroine (and her big secret) to new generations of audiences who will be dazzled and delighted.
The Pre-Broadway World Premiere five-week run of “Tootsie” at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph Street, continues through Oct. 14 and is scheduled to debut on Broadway in spring 2019.
With the exception of a few tweaks and change-ups here and there, the story is very close to the film telling, with the exception that the title character and her alter-ego Michael Dorsey are cast in a Broadway show rather than in a TV soap opera.
Tony Award nominee Santino Fontana is the powerhouse talent who plays Michael Dorsey and later dons the famed wig and padded brassiere as bespeckled Dorothy Michaels in her now trademark shell-rimmed glasses. His love interest is played by warm and witty Lilli Cooper as Julie Nichols, his “show-within-a-show” co-star. What makes this reimagined musical work so well for two and half hours of laughter and light and breezy songs are the equally strong supporting characters that surround the leads, led by Sarah Stiles fantastically frantic and insecure as struggling actress pal Sandy Lester. There’s also the most unlikeable broadway director imaginable by the name of Ron Carlisle played by Reg Rogers contrasted with a dreamy but dumb reality star catapulted into the spotlight as the dreaded director’s lead stage actor Max Van Horn, played perfectly for laughs by John Behlmann. The wonderful Julie Halston gets her own moments to shine as savvy producer Rita Marshall, along with Michael McGrath as Michael’s gruff agent Stan Fields and Andy Grotelueschen as Michael’s best friend Jeff.
Based on the story by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbart and the Columbia Pictures motion picture, the storyline is simple, chronicling the trials and travesties of anyone familiar with the theater world of auditions, casting and the mandatory industry treadmill of securing work. In this scenario, difficult and ego-driven actor Michael has his own vision for what his roles and plot points should be when he’s part of any production, much to the frustration of the director charged with wrangling his talent. As false eyelashes adorned alter ego Dorothy Michaels, the woman whose high heels he steps into for his newly invented identity to net him employment, Michael discovers he has untapped potential to succeed where his maleness has failed. Once done up in wig, frock, glasses and make-up, coupled with his tone, asides, wit and mannerisms, Fontana as Dorothy Michaels is an uncanny carbon of comedian Dana Carvey‘s skit character “The Church Lady” from NBC‘s “Saturday Night Live” of yesteryear.
The rest of the company includes Sissy Bell, Barry Busby, Paula Leggett Chase, Britney Coleman, Leslie Donna Flesner, Jenifer Foote, John Arthur Greene, Drew King, Jeff Kready, Harris Milgrim, Adam Monley, Shina Ann Morris, James Moye, Katerina Papacostas, Diana Vaden and Anthony Wayne.
Since the musical is still being fine-tuned, Playbills and press kits for opening night on Sept. 30 did not include a listing for the names of musical numbers and sequence. Some of the standout favorites include the fun and inviting opening number following the inner thoughts of hopefuls in theater auditions with Michael attempting desperately to fit any character niche possible to garner a call-back. Stiles gets a memorable musical go-around with a rapid-fire song of her character Sandy’s insecure inner thoughts about everything from a first date to the uneasiness of an audition judgement.
However, a more hopeful musical number finale for the final minutes in place of current sanguine park bench scene would help leave the audiences more jubilant to depart the theater with assured smiles after enjoying the rollicking and delightful previous two and half hours.
“Tootsie” features a fantastic and memorable clever and catchy original score by Tony Award-winner David Yazbek, whose stage success includes The Band’s Visit, The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, with book by Robert Horn, choreography by Tony Award nominee Denis Jones whose credits include “Holiday Inn” and “Honeymoon in Vegas” and musical direction by Andrea Grody. “Tootsie” is directed by seven-time Tony Award nominee and Olivier Award winner Scott Ellis. The design team includes scenic designer David Rockwell, who gives the audience an array of intricate and detailed scene changes, from a theater backstage and dressing room to a bachelor’s (very roomy) apartment, and even a city park with working fountain. Mutual praise goes to costume designer William Ivey Long, lighting designer Donald Holder, sound designer Brian Ronan, hair and wig design by Paul Huntley and make-up design by Angelina Avallone.
Philip Potempa is a veteran journalist and published author. He can be reached here.