Reviewed by Katherine Damisch
Tootsie, based on the movie of the same name, is your typical musical about musicals. Michael Dorsey, a temperamental but talented Broadway hopeful played by Frozen and Cinderella star Santino Fontana, can’t find acting work. To reboot his image and reputation, he invents the role of a lifetime: Dorothy Michaels, a warm, middle-aged woman. Using this disguise, he attempts to resume chasing his dreams, but things get complicated along the way when he develops feelings for his co-star, Julie.
The title stems from the show’s surprisingly feminist bent. When sleazy director Ron Carlisle calls Dorothy “Tootsie”, among other diminutive names, she immediately puts him in his place. When Michael returns to acting and dressing like a man, he marvels with his roommate Jeff (played by a hilariously dry Andy Grotelueschen) about how the delicate balance women must juggle in society in order to be deemed acceptable. Julie finds herself falling in love with Dorothy, despite Dorothy’s looks and perceived age, and doesn’t fret for one moment about what that means for her sexual orientation. It’s not a perfect feminist manifesto; frenetic best friend and definite chronic anxiety-sufferer Sandy’s insecurities are relegated to (very impressive and well-executed by actress Sarah Stiles) patter songs, instead of having anyone take her seriously.
Despite this and other minor setbacks, the gender equality messages are clear and woven deep into the fabric of the story. Robert Horn, who wrote the book, did well to keep the show from feeling too preachy. It certainly helps that almost every scene is a-laugh-a-minute, which further helps the show avoid being weighed down by its own message. Unfortunately, David Yazbek’s score did not fare as well. While the up-tempo songs are enjoyable in the moment, this musical comedy lacks your classic “left the theatre humming” hook that sticks in the audience member’s brain. In addition, what few ballads there are, the unfortunate timing of where they land in the show causes them to drag (if you’ll excuse the pun).
Still, Tootsie is bound to delight audience members of all genders. The one-liners, impossible twists and turns, and timeless slapstick translate the story from screen to stage without missing a beat. And, with its modern flair, vibrant characters, and positive messages, you won’t need Dorothy’s thick, cat-eye glasses to see why this show is bound to be a hit when it debuts on Broadway in 2019.