210 West 46th St. at Broadway
Tuesday - Sunday through December 22, $79-$469
Robert Horn moves Sydney Pollack’s 1982 hit, Tootsie, from television soap opera to self-reflective Broadway musical in the book for the Broadway musical adaptation of the film, a ten-time Oscar nominee, continuing at the Marquis Theatre through December 22. The movie starred Dustin Hoffman as Michael Dorsey, an impossibly difficult thespian who dresses as a woman, Dorothy Michaels, to land a job on a daytime soap; he lives with his goofy best friend, Jeff Slater (Bill Murray), is close with his ex-girlfriend, determined actress Sandy Lester (Teri Garr), and falls for one of his costars, Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange). In the Broadway version, Dorsey/Michaels is played with flair and panache by Santino Fontana, who dresses as a woman to play the nurse in Ron Carlisle’s (Reg Rogers, who was played in the movie by Dabney Coleman) disastrous musical sequel to Romeo & Juliet entitled Juliet’s Curse. (The role of Julie’s father, who has the hots for Dorothy and is played in the film by Charles Durning, is excised from the show.) Fontana changes hair and costumes at near-record pace as he flits between his ever-growing role onstage while trying to maintain his offstage relationships and keep his ruse a secret from everyone except Jeff (Andy Grotelueschen).
Michael battles on-set with the womanizing Carlisle; angers his agent, Stan Fields (Michael McGrath, in a very different role from the agent played by Pollack in the film); auditions for the same part Sandy (Sarah Stiles) covets; and haplessly attempts to woo Julie (Lilli Cooper). While the arc of his instant success worked in the movie more than three dozen years ago, it often strains credulity here, particularly during the show-within-a-show’s opening night. But getting there can be lots of fun, with antic choreography by Denis Jones and tongue-in-cheek music and lyrics by David Yazbek, although Scott Ellis’s (The Elephant Man, Kiss Me, Kate) direction is bumpy and inconsistent, Simon Hale’s orchestrations of the ballads are overly conventional, and Dorsey is occasionally too unlikable as the production stumbles over making itself relevant in the #MeToo generation.
Tony nominee Stiles (Hand to God, Avenue Q) nearly steals the show as the desperate Sandy, bringing the house down with “What’s Gonna Happen?,” documenting her futility in both life and career; Tony nominee Rogers (Holiday, The Royal Family) is appropriately slimy as the sleazy, self-important director; Fiasco veteran Grotelueschen (Into the Woods, Cyrano de Bergerac) is warm and funny as Jeff; and Julie Halston (On the Town, Anything Goes) supplies solid support as producer Rita Marshall. William Ivey Long’s costumes and Paul Huntley’s hair and wig design are absolutely fabulous, and David Rockwell’s constantly-in-motion set has its own choreography. There was a sweet, unscripted incident the night I went, the first performance after the production had been nominated for eleven Tonys; when Stan tells Michael he might be up for a Tony, the audience burst into spontaneous applause for several minutes as Fontana (Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Brighton Beach Memoirs), who earned a well-deserved nod for Best Actor in a Musical, sheepishly grinned and blushed: a meta-moment in a production built around its own kind of meta.