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Now Opening: ‘Tootsie’ Starring Santino Fontana on Broadway

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

The new screen-to-stage musical is ready to “roll, Tootsie, roll”

In 2003, the American Film Institute polled approximately 1,500 industry heavyweights to choose their top 100 film comedies of all time. The winner at number one was 1959’s Some Like It Hot (a worthy choice), and at number two was 1982’s Tootsie (coincidentally, another film involving men wearing dresses). But if the final tally were up to me, I would have reversed them, because in addition to Tootsie being genuinely sidesplitting, it also has an insight which underlies its comedy. Late in the story, when the actor Michael Dorsey (played with a hilarious grim determination in the film by Dustin Hoffman), tells his co-star “I was a better man with you, as a woman, than I ever was with a woman as a man,” his discovery is both funny and true. And all the raucousness that came before that moment suddenly left audiences with a surprisingly romantic and touching ending.

Santino Fontana stars in ‘Tootsie’ on Broadway (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Santino Fontana stars in ‘Tootsie’ on Broadway (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Now, nearly forty years later, a new team of artists are attempting to turn Tootsie into a brand-new musical for Broadway. After a successful run in Chicago last spring, where it received encouragingly positive reviews, it is now in the hands of the New York critics as to whether Tootsie will ultimately find its “forever home” at the Marquis Theatre. Of this production’s many virtues, its score is written by David Yazbek, last year’s Tony winner for his words and music to The Band’s Visit. Before adapting Tootsie from its non-musical film source, he did the same for The Fully Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, all of which resulted in Yazbek receiving Tony nominations for Best Score. It not only proved him a major craftsman, but also a composer of enormous versatility. The low comedy of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels makes it hard to believe that music could have come from the same person who wrote such a sensitive score for The Band’s Visit.

Tootsie’s new book has been written by Robert Horn, a veteran of television, with credits that include such series as Designing Women and Living Single. He also wrote the book for Jason Robert Brown’s 2008 Broadway musical 13. And when I refer to Tootsie as having a “new” book, it’s because it is not one of those film-to-musical stage adaptations that stick like Velcro to their original source material, many of which give you nothing more than the same scenes with innocuous songs wedged and crammed here and there. For Tootsie, characters have been altered and rewritten, and, in the biggest change, instead of Michael Dorsey trying out for a TV soap (in disguise as an actress he names Dorothy Michaels), he auditions for and successfully lands the role of Emily Kimberly in a new Broadway musical. This makes perfect sense, as the singing may now come from a more natural place, as well as the fact that TV soaps don’t have nearly the power to make stars out of actors that they did forty years ago.

It’s a good thing that Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels/Emily Kimberly will not be changing that much from the original film (I mean, doesn’t this guy go through enough change already)? And Santino Fontana (seen recently in such Broadway musicals as Hello, Dolly!, Cinderella and as John Adams in the 2016 Encores production of 1776) stepping into the high-heeled shoes of Dustin Hoffman (Academy Award-nominated for his performance) feels like the right fit. He will be accompanied by Lilli Cooper (recently of Spongebob Squarepants), Sarah Stiles (of Broadway’s Hand to God and Showtime’s Billions), Michael McGrath (Tony Award winner for Nice Work If You Can Get It), Reg Rogers (2018’s The Iceman Cometh and 2017’s Present Laughter) and Julie Halston (of 2014’s On the Town and You Can’t Take It With You revivals). This is an A-list cast of sublime character actors, under the able guidance by nine-time Tony Award nominated director Scott Ellis. Perhaps Tootsie will provide Ellis with his tenth nomination, and if so fortunate, the Tony that has previously eluded him.

Tootsie may be arriving on Broadway at the perfect time, as it may serve to counter-program some of the seriousness that has crept into so many musicals of late (even if some of that seriousness has been well worth the time and attention: Dear Evan Hansen and The Band’s Visit – I’m talking about you). Audiences might be hungry for a delicious meal of farce and silliness, which Tootsie is looking to offer in great supply.

Tootsie opens April 23rd at the Marquis Theatre.

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in May 2019.

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