The new musical Tootsie, with book by Robert Horn and music and lyrics by David Yazbek, based on the well-known and well-liked 1982 film starring Dustin Hoffman, has transformed that cultural icon into a delightful fluff of a musical with just enough wit, theatrical in-jokes, good songs, tongue-in-cheek choreography (Denis Jones) and energetic pacing supervised by director Scott Ellis to make the stage version a completely different animal than the original.
Michael Dorsey (the Hoffman part here played by an ebullient, energetic Santino Fontana) is still a petulant, self-destructive actor, but he is now part of the New York theater world, not the daytime soaps and his nemesis is the clueless director/choreographer Ron Carlisle (a priceless Reg Rogers) who fires him from a Broadway bound musical in the hilariously awkward opening moments of the show, a number called “Opening Number,” of course.
Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels still has most of his/her friends and professional acquaintances from the movie version with some new twists: Jeff Slater, his playwright roommate (a wonderfully sardonic Andy Grotelueschen) having difficulty setting words to paper; former girlfriend, hyper-paranoid unemployed actress Sandy Lester (Sarah Stiles, doing mega-ditzy with all pistons firing); leading lady Julie Nichols (Lilli Cooper, lovely, good voice, but not as romantically vivid as she should be); clueless show director Ron Carlisle who’s not quite as sexist as in the film; and, finally, lascivious actor Max Van Horn (John Behlmann, who nearly steals the show with his brilliantly acrobatic machinations), now a dull-witted, malaprop-spouter who falls hard for the older Dorothy.
Sandy asks Michael to help her prepare to audition for the part of the Nurse in a new musical, The Nurse’s Curse, which inevitably makes Michael think that, although his agent Stan Fields (Michael McGrath, making his smallish part glow) declares him uncastable, he will, as in the original, audition as a woman.
We all know he succeeds in getting the part when he appears as strong-willed Dorothy who appeals to the show’s producer Rita Marshall (played by Julie Halston in peak form), despite director Carlisle’s disdain.
Soon Dorothy has insinuated herself not only into the cast but into the production, suggesting massive changes in the play which purports to show that Juliet survived her suicide to run off with Romeo’s brother. Playwrights Stuart and Suzie (Nick Spangler and Britney Coleman, doing their best with tiny parts) give in to Dorothy’s ideas and—lo and behold—what was looking like a gloomy flop begins to look like a big hit.
Julie (Juliet) feels herself drawn closer and closer to Dorothy (the Nurse) which leads to some same-sex complications not considered in the original film.
All this hilarity is abetted by the scenery of David Rockwell whose large schematic N.Y.C. skyline set is superimposed by funny apartments, office spaces and faux musical stage settings.
Yazbek’s songs vary from tongue-in-cheek takes on bad musicals to expressions of neurosis to sardonic views of modern life and the creative mind.
Donald Holder’s lighting is bright and brassy while the veteran costume designer William Ivey Long has outdone himself with his colorful creations. Long has to be complimented for his efforts—aided by Paul Huntley’s hair and wigs and Angelina Avallone’s makeup—to make Fontana look feminine despite his manly physique (and large feet!)
This Tootsie lacks the sadder, desperate undertones of the film, but makes up for it by being a rip-roaring musical comedy that goes strictly for laughs, which it gets in droves.
Tootsie (through January 5, 2020)
Marquis Theatre, 210 West 46th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 877-250-2929 or visit http://www.TootsieMusical.com
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission