Tootsie rolls into Chicago for its pre-Broadway run

Tootsie rolls into Chicago for its pre-Broadway run
Outside the Palace Theatre in Chicago. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

"Women listen to each other"
...Michael Dorsey in Tootsie

TOOTSIE (the musical) settles the debate once and for all.  Women really are the better sex.

Just ask Dorothy Michaels (Santino Fontana who plays Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels) in the pre-Broadway run of Tootsie: The Musical  at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. As a man, Michael was calculating, obsessive, unlikable and pretty much an all around jerk. 

As Dorothy he is good-hearted and kind--the better half of himself.

Tootsie: The Musical is based on the story about a male actor who couldn't get hired until he dressed as a woman and wins a female role in a soap opera.

The original book by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbart became the 1982 hit movie, Tootsie starring Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr and Bill Murray.

When I heard the show was being revived as a musical, I must admit, I had my doubts.

The gag of a man dressing up as a woman is as old as Charlie Chaplin (maybe even older) who donned women's clothes in “The Masquerader” in 1914 for laughs. 

What was funny then (and even in 1982) is no longer as funny. As a society we have become much more gender sensitive no longer accepting implicit sexism and the mixed messages it brings. 

Would a man dressing as a women be offensive to transexuals, I wondered, among other questions, I had.

But to my surprise the updated  book by Robert Horn (“Moonshine”) along with the entire Tootsie Company pulled if off.

Here's how they did it:

Santino Fontana

Santino Fontana

First they picked the right lead: Tony Award nominee SANTINO FONTANA as Michael Dorsey (and Dorothy Michaels). Not only can sing (very important for a musical) but he can act. And he gets it

Fontana is believable both as Michael and Dorothy--and plays the roles compassionately.

The story has been updated to reflect the present day. The original plot showcased an actor trying to get a role in a soap opera (popular in 1982). The updated story takes place on Broadway where the stage is not only bigger but the characters broader.

A frustrated, Michael who has had no luck getting any roles as a male actor decides to audition for a musical, “Romeo and Juliet, Part Two,” as a woman.

He pulls it off  beyond his wildest dreams and finds the success that he had been seeking as a man.

He also finds another side of himself, a kinder, gentler side as Dorothy. But therein lies the problem. The sweeter, kinder and more honest Dorothy has rubbed off on the former brash Michael--who can no longer live a lie.

The show is also peppered with great one-liners that are genuinely funny and relevant to today. Many are up-to-the-minute with the "MeToo" movement front and center with lines like this one from a male director to a female actress as he leads her off stage “I’m not touching you (just guiding you)” or “my yoga teacher said I invented a new position: Downward Spiral.”

Veteran actress Julie Halston as Rita Marshall, in a small but important part as the wealthy producer who's backing the Broadway show, tells it like it is--and scores BiG for all women.

The score by David Yazbek (“The Band’s Visit”)--although not memorable--works--to bring the story up to date.

The staging and the set design knocked it out of the park. It carried along the story beautifully and switched seamlessly and often from scene to scene.

The talented design team includes scenic designer David Rockwell, costume designer William Ivey Long, lighting designer Donald Holder, sound designer Brian Ronan.

Santino Fontana stars as Michael Dorsey in the new stage musical "Tootsie."  Photo:  Julia Cervantes 

Santino Fontana stars as Michael Dorsey in the new stage musical "Tootsie."  Photo:  Julia Cervantes

The company features Tony Award nominee SANTINO FONTANA as Michael Dorsey (and Dorothy Michaels), as well as LILLI COOPER as Julie Nichols, SARAH STILES as Sandy Lester, JOHN BEHLMANN 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.

The company also includes SISSY BELL, BARRY BUSBY, PAULA LEGGETT CHASE, BRITNEY COLEMAN, LESLIE DONNA FLESNER, JENIFER FOOTE, JOHN ARTHUR GREENE, DREW KING, JEFF KREADY, HARRIS MILGRIM, ADAM MONLEY, SHINA ANN MORRIS, JAMES MOYE, KATERINA PAPACOSTAS, DIANA VADEN and ANTHONY WAYNE.

TOOTSIE features an original score by Tony Award-winner David Yazbek (The Band’s Visit, The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), a book by Robert Horn (13; Dame Edna, Back with a Vengeance), choreography by Tony Award nominee Denis Jones (Holiday Inn, Honeymoon in Vegas), and musical direction by Andrea Grody (The Band’s Visit). TOOTSIE will be directed by seven-time Tony Award nominee and Olivier Award winner Scott Ellis (She Loves Me, On the Twentieth Century).

Rating: 3.5 stars
What: "Tootsie"
When: Now through October 14
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph
Tickets: (800) 775-2000 or Broadway In Chicago
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

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Filed under: Theater in Chicago

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