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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
But here's the good news: As nimbly directed by Scott Ellis, Tootsie, the musical comedy now on Broadway isn't just another screen to stage adaptation relying on its reputation, nostalgia appeal and star casting to fill the seats of a huge venue like the Marquis. Robert Horn has updated the gender switching plot so that's in keeping with the world we live in. His script is so smartly written and chockablock with really funny one-liners that this Tootsie almost feels like a brand new show even though its plot still revolves around the basic conceit of an unemployed actor donning a wig, dress and earrings to be cast in a female role.
For starters Horn changed the pretend female's acting opportunity to a role in a Broadway musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet instead of a TV soap opera (a no longer popular entertainment genre). Naturally, this works well for a musical adaptation that needs a set-up that can fluidly integrate songs and dances. Horn also uses the comic gender switching to add depth to the farcical plot complications by transferring Michael's' argumentative personality to Dorothy Michaels, thus making her something of a spokesperson for Me#Too issues.
The highly entertaining libretto almost outshines the music. But fortunately David Yazbek who knows his way around the styles and tones needed to support a musical's story. His songs here though not exceptionally memorable are certainly peppy enough to work well with the equally peppy choreography by Denis Jones. He softens the tone nicely for some of the more emotionally charged solos ad duets. But it's his lyrics that are real knckouts. They're as witty as Horn's dialogue; and, while the show suffers from the excessive amplification used in huge venues like the Marquis Theatre, Andrea Grody's orchestra doesn't drown out the words. Since I sat close to the stage, I hope this applies to seats further back or in the balcony.
Naturally, a character who has to literally look, speak and even sing as both man and woman, needs a very special actor to bring it off. . And with Santino Fontana this Tootsie surely has a winner. He the his and her roles with ease. And he's not only hilarious but touchingly human. His handling of the vocal challenge is extraordinary, especially in "Who Are You?" duet with Lilli Cooper, the musical within a musical's Juliet .
Director Ellis has rounded up a cast of bravura thespians to be part of the Michael-Dorothy story. There's Michael's roommate Jeff Slater(a wonderfully understated Andy Grotelueschen). Contributing to the romantic complications that evoke similar hidden identity situations in Shakespeare, we have the already mentioned Lilly Cooper as Julie Nichols the actress who plays Juliet, his his neurotic girl friend Sandy Lester (a sensationally motor mouthed Sarah Stiles) and a hunky, not too bright actor Max Van Horn (a gleefully over the top John Behlmann). Julie Halston makes the most of the rich producer Rita Marshall, as does Michael McGrath as Michael's agent Stan Fields. If I had to name my favorite and funniest, it would be Reg Rogers. He's priceless as the obnoxious, director Ron Carlisle who puts the nail on the coffin of Michael's career during the opening number but gets his comeuppance by Dorothy.
To help everyone navigate all these plot thread and musical numbers, David Rockwell has created more sets than I could count as the rise ad descend, slide and glide. Costume, wig, lighting and sound wizards William Ivey Long, Paul Huntley, Donald Holder and Brian Ronan complete talent contributing the snap, crackle and pop of this show.
Though the clever up-to-date book and lyrics haven't kept Scott Ellis from borrowing from other well known hit movie adaptations like The Producers. But why not? Dorothy, elated with her rise from minor to major player, doesn't quite make good on her tuneful "I Won't Let You Down." But Santino Fontana and company won't let down audiences looking for a lively and enjoyable theatrical outing. And so, to paraphrase Al Jolson's famous song, Toot, toot,Tootsie, hello!
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Original score by David Yazbek
Book by Robert Horn
Choreography by Denis Jones
Musical direction by Andrea Grody. To be directed by Scott Ellis
Cast:Santino Fontana as Michael Dorsey, Lilli Cooper as Julie Nichols, Sarah Stiles as Sandy Lester, John Behlmannn as Max Van Horn, Andy Grotelueschen as Jeff Slater, Julie Halston as Rita Marshall, Michael McGrath as Stan Fields, and Reg Rogers as Ron Carlisle.
Scenic designer: David Rockwell Costume designer: William Ivey Long
Lighting designer: Donald Holder
Sound designer: Brian Ronan
Hair and wig design: by Paul Huntley
Make-up design: Angelina Avallone
Production Stage Manager: Scott Taylor Rollison
Stage Manager: Matthew Lacey
Marquis Theatre 210 West 46th Street
From 4/23/19; opening 4/28/19
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 4/25/19 press preview
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