With Santino Fontana leading the way in the dual roles of Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, the Broadway-bound new musical TOOTSIE sings its way to success. Based on the 1982 film of the same name, book writer Robert Horn and composer/lyricist David Yazbek have translated TOOTSIE’S setting to modern-day New York City. It’s a smart move because it enables Yazbek to give the show a lush, contemporary Broadway sound; it also makes sure that TOOTSIE’s farcical tone lends itself to ample laughs while remaining respectful. The show’s design also firmly grounds us in the glitz and glam of NYC showbiz, with David Rockwell’s opulent and modern set showcasing many flashy, stunning elements.
Fontana’s Dorsey is a struggling actor with a difficult personality who just can’t catch a break in show business…until he decides to disguise himself as the matronly Dorothy Michaels and lands a part in the fictional new musical JULIET’S CURSE that will change his career and his life. Yazbek and Horn’s writing makes it such that we root for Michael’s success, even as we cringe at his poor decisions. It also doesn’t hurt that Fontana has charisma practically oozing through his veins. He’s compelling and endlessly watchable, and even though we may not love his character’s choices, Fontana easily wins audience attention from his first solo, “What Do You Do?” Fontana displays formidable talent and stamina throughout the show, as he makes entirely distinct choices in the roles of Michael and Dorothy. We see him transform before our eyes. This is not just thanks to William Ivey Long’s costumes, Paul Huntley’s wig designs, and Angelina Avallone’s make-up design but also because Fontana completes a physical transformation of his own. He carries himself entirely different as Dorothy, which makes us buy that those around him will believe his charade. Vocally, Fontana also has the goods and shows off his range both as Michael and Dorothy.
To accompany Fontana onstage, director Scott Ellis has assembled a cast of actors who all fit their roles to perfection. It’s impossible to imagine any other actors in these roles. As Michael’s best friend, roommate, and fellow struggling artist Jeff, Andy Grotelueschen hits the most magnificent comedic beats. Grotelueschen has one of the best moments in the show with his solo number that opens Act Two; it’s a moment of high-energy delightfulness and sass, though I won’t reveal the title here so as not to spoil the joke. As Michael’s ex-girlfriend Sandy, Sarah Stiles plays her character’s neuroticism to a “T.” Stiles isn’t afraid to make bold acting choices that sell us on her character’s nervous state, and her solo number “I Know What’s Gonna Happen” is a veritable masterclass in character acting. Stiles plows through the number with a franticness entirely truthful to her character, but she never compromises on vocal ability or diction in order to do so.
As the lead actor in JULIET’S CURSE and Michael’s new friend Julie, Lili Cooper nails the diegetic song in the fictional musical and also provides a grounding, truthful presence amidst TOOTSIE’S wackiness. John Behlmann is deliciously daffy as the former reality star Max Von Horn.
Reg Rogers nails the role of the egotistical and slimy Broadway director Ron Carlisle, while Julie Halston also earns many deserved laughs as producer Rita Marshall. All the actors fit their roles like a glove, and together the ensemble milks TOOTSIE’s material for maximum laughs and enjoyment.
TOOTSIE delivers two-and-a-half hours of non-stop laugh. But TOOTSIE succeeds because the laughs aren’t cheap; rather the material is strong and well-structured. With Fontana leading the way and joined by such a superlative company of actors, TOOTSIE becomes a must-see show.
TOOTSIE plays Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theater through October 14. BroadwayInChicago.com
Photo by Julieta Cervantes