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Tootsie review at Marquis Theatre, New York – ‘superb performances, ho-hum score’

Santino Fontana and the company of Tootsie. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Despite a rather flavourless score by David Yazbek, the screen-to-stage adaptation of Tootsie, the film that scored Dustin Hoffman an Oscar nomination in 1983, is arguably the funniest new musical on Broadway.

Director Scott Ellis’ production is first and foremost a comedy, though it’s also alert to contemporary gender politics. The book by Robert Horn features numerous zingers while the lyrics of Yazbek’s songs are often entertainingly playful.

When actor Michael Dorsey (Santino Fontana) finds he cannot get hired anywhere, he decides to audition for a new Broadway musical, a ridiculous sequel to Romeo and Juliet, dressed as a woman. His female alter ego, Dorothy Michaels, gets the part. As Dorothy, he becomes friends with leading lady Julie (Lilli Cooper) only to fall for her. Meanwhile, Dorothy proves irresistible to her dim co-star Max (John Behlmann).

A lot has changed since the 1980s and the show addresses sexism and harassment in theatre, as well as the consequences of a cisgender man taking a woman’s job in a moment of increasing female stage representation. It makes it abundantly clear that Michael is in the wrong.

The cast is uniformly superb. Fontana’s Dorothy is radiant, in contrast to his Michael who is suitably dull. His gestures are feminine without being exaggerated: the gentle touch of hands to hips, the way he adjusts his hair. Though Cooper’s role remains thankless, she makes a strong partner to Dorothy. Sarah Stiles, as Michael’s ex-girlfriend, is a frenetic, harried delight, while Behlmann joyfully toys with his character’s vacuity. Andy Grotelueschen, as Michael’s roommate, steals the show with his sarcastic delivery.

But despite the stupendous cast, Ellis’ production is visually uninspiring with predictably shrill sets and costumes for the musical-within-a-musical. While Michael sees the world differently after walking in Dorothy’s heels, the essence of the story remains the same – it takes a self-serving act to bring about a man’s epiphany.

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Some superb performances and a hilarious script elevate a ho-hum score in this screen-to-stage musical adaptation