Broadway Review: “Tootsie”

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  • Joseph Verlezza, Associate New York Critic

“Tootsie” has arrived and the lights on Broadway, especially those the Marquis theater where the musical is in residence, are shining much brighter because of the energy generated by the incredible cast that delights the audience and sparks uproarious laughter and spontaneous applause at every turn.

This new production based on the 1982 movie starring Dustin Hoffman has transferred to the stage with intelligence and style that allows the updated version to enter the 21st century graciously. The revised storyline, with a book by Robert Horn, employs ingenious changes for the stage adaption and is effective in its ability to address gender issues and the current women’s movement, while also being pleasantly vulgar without insult. The signature score by David Yazbek is slightly reminiscent of earlier works but that’s fine since it provides that big Broadway sound associated with good old-fashioned musical comedy. Director Scott Ellis keeps the show moving at a fast, fluid pace, but enables his cast to take advantage of every opportunity to cash in on the constant one liners, showcasing their impeccable comic timing. Denis Jones uses his lively choreography to add a powerful charge and sometimes is the connective current that keeps the electricity flowing, covering for certain costume changes without breaking the circuit.

Now for those who do not know the story. Michael Dorsey (an awesome Santino Fontana) is a talented, arrogant, and narcissistic out of work actor in New York City. He lives with his roommate Jeff Slater (a priceless Andy Grotelueschen) who is a playwright who has not been able to finish a play or to elaborate, even start one. Along comes Sandy Lester (a perfectly neurotic Sarah Stiles) who is also a struggling actor going nowhere and Michael’s ex but now a good friend, with hopes of rekindling their relationship. As a last resort Michael decides he will pose as a woman (Dorothy Michaels) and audition for the same part as Sandy, in a new Broadway musical. He wins the role and the fun begins. He falls in love with the star of the show Julie Nichols (a strong-willed Lilli Cooper), who quickly befriends Dorothy as they plot to change the storyline of the play to a more feminist view.

Of course, the show will be a success and Dorothy will become a star. Michael should be happy, but he decides to expose himself in hopes of beginning a relationship with Julie, regardless of the consequences. It is not so much the plot but the manner and skill in which it is executed that make this a seamless, hilarious, thrilling, joyride that never stops until the curtain falls. Even the curtain call is full of surprises!

It is difficult to describe the talent has been assembled on the stage of the Marquis Theater without sounding partisan. So, to keep it simple, the cast and creative team have nailed it. Mr. Fontana is lovable as the forlorn Michael and captivating as the indomitable Dorothy. He is indefatigable with hardly any downtime (except for insane costume changes), with an incredible baritone and impressive falsetto that deliver every song with strength and clarity. He gives a powerhouse performance. Lilli Cooper gives a strong, intelligent, interpretation of Julie, supported by a wide vocal range that captures her character. Sarah Stiles redefines neurotic, inventing a hilarious Sandy and stopping the show with her quick patter musical number “What’s Gonna Happen.” Andy Grotelueschen has the deadpan Jeff down to a science, never missing an opportunity to use silence as a tool for comedy. John Behlmann occupies the vacant mind of the inane Max Van Horn with charming ignorance and loving ineptitude.

Reg Rogers fills Director Ron Carlisle with animated self-indulgence and despicable behavior that goes beyond stereotype. Julie Halston gives producer Rita Marshall panache and delivers her one liners with impeccable comic timing. Michael McGrath makes his mark as theatrical agent Stan Fields creating one of the most hilarious door-opening scenes in theater history without saying a word.

Kudos to the entire cast and creative team for bringing back that good old fashioned, blockbuster Broadway musical comedy that has graced the theaters of the great white way for decades. Treat yourself to a retreat from hectic schedules, the present chaotic, socio-political environment and disturbing news, to sit back, relax, laugh till your sides hurt and leave the theater feeling good. This is a show with remarkable performances that should not be missed.

TOOTSIE

“Tootsie” stars Santino Fontana, Lilli Cooper, Sarah Stiles, John Behlmann, Andy Grotelueschen, Julie Halston, Michael McGrath and Reg Rogers

The design team for “Tootsie” includes scenic designer David Rockwell, 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.

“Tootsie” is currently on at the Marquis Theatre (210 West 46th Street). For information on performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://tootsiemusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Santino Fontana (right) and the Company of “Tootsie.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.