New York City Theater
“Being a woman is no job for a man,” So says the character Michael Dorsey in “Tootsie,” the funny new musical based on the funny film in which Dustin Hoffman disguised himself as one Dorothy Michaels in order to get an acting job. Though cleverly changed from employment in a soap opera to a stage musical, the premise is the same. The drag is now inhabited by the multi-talented Santino Fontana who not only has to walk in high heels but sing as both male and female, sometimes in the same song. ‘Tain’t easy.
Robert Horn’s skillful book not only doesn’t ape the movie but turns the musical into a defense of feminist empowerment. With a jazz-infused score by David Yazbek, athletic choreography by Denis Jones and bright, sympathetic direction by Scott Ellis, “Tootsie” is an entertaining throwback to second-tier shows of the so-called Golden Age of Musicals. Not first-tier, mind you.
The Dorsey/Michaels character is still an egotistical pain in the butt, the kind of actor who objects to just about everything directors and writers have created. (Playing a tomato in a TV commercial, he objects to sitting: “Tomatoes don’t sit,” he cries.) The film made the character vulnerable and compassionate, traits lessened on stage. This character plows through with nary a nod at colleagues until he’s reminded that his egocentricity is taking a job away from female performers.
Anyway, the jerk learns his limits from Julie Nichols (the uncharismatic Lilli Cooper), the actress playing the eponymous lead in “Juliet’s Curse,” soon to be titled “Juliet’s Nurse,” the role Dorothy plays in the musical within “Tootsie.” Coming on to her in his Dorothy disguise reveals Michael’s duplicity and adds a nod to same-sex attraction. Further, falling in love with Julie two-times Sandy (the sensational Sarah Stiles who stops the show with a patter song about her failures, “What’s Gonna Happen” which even takes a dig at Justice Scalia).
Betrayal is in Michael’s arsenal as are so many other unattractive traits, but he’s serious about acting (his anthemic, “I Won’t Let You Down,” confirms his professional authenticity). To make the character palatable, the creators surround him with expert farceurs Julie Halston, Michael McGrath and Reg Rogers (“I’ve had numerous wives –some of them mine”), all hilarious.
Also delightful are Andy Grotelueschen as Michael’s scruffy roommate, and John Behlmann who has brains in his tight abs. David Rockwell’s sets and Donald Holder’s lighting are properly gaudy, while William Ivey Long does his usual magic with costumes.
“Tootsie” could use more heart and better songs (the lovely “Who Are You?” is an exception). Still, its feminist angle and its funny zingers don’t sell theatergoers short.
--David A. Rosenberg
May 7, 2019
May 7, 2019