Review: Tootsie the Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

| October 1, 2018

0 Santino Fontana with Drew King, Leslie Donna Flesner, Sissy Bell, and John Arthur Greene    



Music and lyrics by David Yazbek
Book by Robert Horn
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
thru Oct 14  |  tix: $35-$105  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Never has an anti-hero been so likable


0 Santino Fontana with Drew King, Leslie Donna Flesner, Sissy Bell, and John Arthur Greene

Broadway in Chicago presents

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

Talk to any theatergoer of a certain age (as in, under 50) and you’re likely to hear this complaint: in the era of #MeToo and Brett Kavanaugh crying about beer, do we really need a musical adaptation of a cross-dressing male actor’s story? The potential for homophobic and transphobic humor is great; the odds that the story will age well are slim.

This Tootsie satisfyingly defies the odds.

0 Santino Fontana stars as Michael Dorsey in Tootsie, Broadway in ChicagoThe powers that be behind this pre-Broadway tryout made a wise move in hiring bookwriter Robert Horn to adapt the hit Dustin Hoffman vehicle that also starred Bill Murray, Teri Garr and Jessica Lange. Horn has penned sympathetic young characters for Jason Robert Brown’s 13; and – as a writer for Dame Edna and Bette Midler – he’s also very familiar with camp. In the hands of another writer, Tootsie the Musical could have fulfilled its potential to be offensive and lazy to a modern, socially conscious audience. Instead, Tootsie’s book is its most memorable facet, followed closely by Santino Fontana’s divine leading performance.

Even those unfamiliar with the 1982 movie likely know the concept. Actor Michael Dorsey can’t get work due to his temperamental nature, and at 40 years old, his marketability is on a steady decline. One day, Michael gets the bright idea to crash an audition – not as himself, but as “Dorothy Michaels,” a sweet but sassy middle-aged actress. It’s only supposed to be for one job, but soon Dorothy gains positive buzz and the attention of beautiful costar Julie (a luminous Lilli Cooper). Hilarity ensues.

Horn and company smartly changed the musical’s setting from a soap opera (much more prevalent and popular in the early 1980’s) to, well, a Broadway musical. The latter, a hack adaptation of Romeo and Juliet involving Romeo’s brother Craig, provides a lot of the show’s humor, and a small, standout role for stage and screen vet Julie Halston as the take-no-prisoners producer. When Michael argues that his unnamed chorus character is actually a veteran with PTSD and would not be singing cheerfully about New York life, it’s the first of many genuinely funny moments. It’s rare that the book of a musical is not only hilarious but memorable, with social commentary that’s not too heavy-handed and genuine character development. One-liners like “my yoga teacher said I invented a new position: Downward Spiral” are laugh-out-loud, as Michael learns to check his attitude and his male privilege, learning that while he feels empowered to speak up, even in drag, his co-star and love interest does not.

If only David Yazbek’s score were as memorable as Horn’s book. Yazbek’s polysyllabic lyrics burst with intelligent humor, but his melodies leave much to be desired. I couldn’t remember each song mere seconds after it reached its last note, even when said song was a reprise. Unremarkable soundtrack aside, Denis Jones’ choreography (with dance arrangements by David Chase) is pure polished whimsy, at one point brilliantly calling back to the whacked-out guidance of sexist director Ron Carlisle (Reg Rogers).

It will be interesting to see how Tootsie fares on Broadway, and whether the concept of the original movie will lure boomers or drive away millennials. One thing’s for sure: the show rests on the broad shoulders of its leading man, and Fontana is a brilliant choice. Years of Broadway, television and even Disney movies (Frozen) have given him a work ethic as consistent as his soulful baritone, the latter of which carries to the rafters in a way that’s downright divine. Fontana doesn’t give his female persona stereotypical high-pitched vocals and exaggerated mannerisms. Rather, his Dorothy is as darling and dignified as his Michael is cranky and petulant. However, the magic of Fontana is that even at peak asshole, the audience roots for him. Never has an anti-hero been so likable.

Rating: ★★★½

Tootsie continues through October 14th at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map), with performances Tuesdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays 2pm & 7:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm & 7:30pm.  Tickets are $35-$105, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at or time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Tootsie the Musical bows, Broadway in Chicago, Cadillac Palace Theatre

Photos by Julieta Cervantes




Santino Fontana (Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels), Lilli Cooper (Julie Nichols), Sarah Stiles (Sandy Lester), John Behlmann (Max Van Horn), Andy Grotelueschen (Jeff Slater), Julie Halston (Rita Marshall), Michael McGrath (Stan Fields), Reg Rogers (Ron Carlisle),  Paula Leggett Chase, Britney Coleman, Leslie Donna Flesner, John Arthur Greene, Drew King, Jeff Kready, Harris Milgrim, Shina Ann Morris, James Moye, Katerina Papacostas, Diane Vaden, Anthony Wayne (ensemble), Barry Busby, Sissy Bell, Jenifer Foote, Adam Monley (swings)


Andrea Grody (conductor, keyboard 2), Andy Peterson (associate conductor, keyboard 1), Spencer Cohen (drums), Logan Coale (electric and acoustic bass), Steve Roberts (guitar), Jeff Handley (percussion), Carey Deadman, Tim Burke (trumpets), Michael Joyce (trombone), Jeremiah Frederick (French horn), Steve Leinheiser, Jim Gailloreto, Paul McGinley (reeds), Elizabeth Huffman (violin, concert master), Loretta Gillespie (viola), Jocelyn Davis-Beck (cello)

behind the scenes

Scott Ellis (director), Andrea Grody (music director, conductor, vocal arrangements), Denis Jones (choreography), Don McGuire, Larry Gelbart (original screenplay), David Rockwell (scenic design), William Ivey Long (costume design), Donald Holder (lighting design), Brian Ronan (sound design), Paul Huntley (hair and wig design), Angelina Avallone (make-up design), Jim Carnahan (casting), David Chase (dance arrangements), Simon Hale (orchestrations), Dean Sharenow (music coordinator), Barry Busby (associate choreographer, dance captain), Aurora Productions (production management), Scott Taylor Rollison (production stage manager), Dave Solomon (associate director), Jeff Kready (fight captain), Emily Grishman (music copying), Billy Jay Stein (electronic music design), Tim Burke (local music coordinator), Julieta Cervantes (photos)

0 Santino Fontana stars as Michael Dorsey in Tootsie, Broadway in Chicago0 Santino Fontana stars as Michael Dorsey in Tootsie, Broadway in Chicago bows


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Broadway in Chicago, Cadillac Palace Theatre, David Yazbek, Lauren Emily Whalen, Musical, New Work, Video, World Premier, YouTube

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