Marquis Theatre, NYC, April 25, 2019

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Santino Fontana & Cast
Photo: Matthew Murphy

With songs, dances, and an updated book, Tootsie inserts freshness into the familiarity of a popular 1982 movie. A powerhouse cast, a full orchestra, and an overture make this the best screen-to-stage production this season. At the Marquis Theatre it’s funny and tender, and it offers laughs that won’t stop.

Robert Horn’s adaptation moves the story to the present day and is about struggling actor Michael Dorsey, played by Santino Fontana (Cinderella). It’s a part that could have been written for him and he grabs hold of it and soars.

In “Opening Number,” we see that Dorsey is a skilled performer but has an irritatingly pretentious side (“No one will hire you!” says his agent). When he reaches 40 and his career still fails to ignite, Dorsey decides that the way to get a part in a Broadway show is to impersonate a woman. So Michael Dorsey becomes Dorothy Michaels. Impersonating a sensible lady in a sensible blue dress (and undergarments), he shows up at the audition for a part in Juliet’s Curse, a musical sequel to Romeo and Juliet. He gets the part. Directed by Scott Ellis with a firm hand and the know-how of using Horn’s one-liners, a star (and a hit show) are born.  

It could all turn out to be just another silly show, but Fontana is compelling in this role. Not only does he sing in two vocal ranges, but he endows his characters (both Michael and Dorothy) with charm and sensitivity and, on the way, the character learns something about struggling as a woman. The music and lyrics by David Yazbek (The Band’s Visit) are less than his best, but they’re workable, if not memorable. Dorothy’s anthem, “I Won’t Let You Down,” does the job, and the grand opening song of Juliet’s Curse, “The Most Important Night of My Life,” has the verve, if not the evergreen quality, of a Broadway musical opening number. 

The large cast provides strong backup, with stand-outs like firecracker Sarah Stiles playing Dorsey’s frenzied girlfriend Sandy Lester, appearing on stage with so much manic energy that she never quite notices that he does not love her and even betrays her. Singing “What’s Gonna Happen?,” she is hilarious, delivering the lyrics with breathless show-stopping triple-speed. 

Unfortunately for Sandy, Dorsey, busy in his new show, meets and falls in love with the appealing Julie, played by Lilli Cooper. This, of course, is fraught with its own problems since Dorsey has not revealed his true gender. Julie thinks of him as Dorothy, her new bestie with whom she can share confidences, as she reveals in her song, “Who Are You?” 

Dorsey’s pal, aspiring playwright Jeff Slater (played by Andy Grotelueshen) adds angst and comedy as the only one who knows Dorsey’s impersonation scheme. His show-stopper, “Jeff Sums It Up,” tells it all. Reg Rogers plays sleazy director Ron Carlyle who makes moves on Dorothy and scores in leading the cast in a priceless choreography parody. Always dependable, Michael McGrath plays Stan Fields, Dorsey’s impatient agent, and Julie Halston is a prize, preening in her William Ivey Long couture designs, perfect for Rita Marshall, the wealthy earthy producer she portrays. John Behlmann is hilarious as Max Van Horn, a hunky but dopey performer in Juliet’s Curse who has his eye on Dorothy.

With all the puzzle pieces in place, Tootsie is a delight. David Rockwell’s sets are pure Great-White-Way splash along with Donald Holder’s lighting and sound by Brian Ronan. The cast is winning, many lyrics are catchy, one-liners hit the mark, costumes are delicious, and choreography by Denis Jones is imaginative. As the lead, Fontana has it right with “I Won’t Let You Down.”

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.