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Photo: Matthew Murphy Review
Like its title character, “Tootsie” works very hard to make sure you see only what it wants you to believe. Thanks to an often-hilarious, one-liner filled book (by Robert Horn, based heavily on Larry Gelbart and Don McGuire’s 1982 screenplay) -- delivered by the most expert cast of farceurs currently on Broadway -- some updated nods to 21st-century women’s rights, and a handful of splashy musical numbers, well-staged by director Scott Ellis and choreographer Denis Jones on David Rockwell’s ever-changing sets, you can easily spend your 2 ½ hours at the Marquis Theatre believing you’ve witnessed a great Broadway musical.

But here’s the big difference: Towards the end of the show, our protagonist, actor Michael Dorsey (the hard-working Santino Fontana in a Tony-worthy turn) reveals to all around him that he’s been pretending to be something else – in this case, a middle-aged actress named Dorothy Michaels who’s somehow taken Broadway by storm in a seemingly idiotic musical named “Juliet’s Nurse.” He even has the courage to admit (while on stage, no less) that he’s a fraud. Audiences, however, will have to reflect post-curtain on what they’ve just witnessed to realize how “Tootsie” has gotten away with seducing us.

For example, the show talks the talks about how women are mistreated -- without showing us much about it. “She’d voice her opinion, then be called ‘hysterical.’ She had to be assertive, but not bitchy, compassionate, but not ‘emotional,’ feminine, but never misleading,” Michael says to his wisecracking roommate Jeff (a pitch-perfect Andy Grotelueschen) when discussing his time as Dorothy. But the show’s creators haven’t shown us even one second of such behavior; the only “mistreatment” Dorothy suffers is at the hands of the egotistical director Ron Carlisle (Reg Rogers, blatantly and blissfully over-the-top), who treats almost every single person he meets like dirt.

Yes, Dorothy does some good for other women, like ultimately making a deal with the show’s producer, Rita Marshall (a priceless Julie Halston) to ensure that leading lady Julie Nichols (a lovely Lilli Cooper) is paid the same as its “name” star, the dumb, talentless reality show veteran Max Von Horn (a hilarious John Behlmann). But the seemingly generous act seems motivated not by a newfound desire for equal rights, just by guilt. Not only hasn’t Michael figured out how to make Julie fall in love with him (as a man), but he blew his big chance to do so by shamelessly using Julie’s own confession about what she wants in a man when he (as Michael) tries to pick her up in a piano bar.

Also, while Dorothy seems to have figured out how to save “Juliet’s Nurse” from the annals of flopdom, that’s primarily by making herself the lead, romantic and otherwise, and transposing the show to 1950s Italy. (William Ivey Long appears to have raided the warehouse where Catherine Zuber’s costumes for “The Light in the Piazza” have been stored). Is that an act of feminism or egotism?

And I haven’t even gotten to how badly Michael treats Sandy (the scene-stealing Sarah Stiles), the ultra-neurotic actress madly in love with him – from actually grabbing the part she wanted (but admittedly wasn’t going to get) to standing her up for dinner to spend some extra time with Julie.

Unfortunately, the show’s book is not its only glaring flaw. Tony Award-winner David Yazbek’s score is a surprisingly mixed bag. He’s a master at comic character numbers, such as Sandy’s tongue-twisting “What’s Gonna Happen” (a tad reminiscent of “Model Behavior” from “Women on the Verge”) or the aptly-named “Jeff Sums It Up.” In addition, Julie’s piano-bar number “Gone, Gone, Gone” proves to be a wonderful showcase for Cooper’s soulful vocals. But the songs that are really meant to reveal the inner dilemmas of Michael and Julie – the ones that are most crucial to giving the musical more depth -- fail to deliver either much of a message or anything memorable to hum.

“I Won’t Let You Down,” sings Dorothy at her audition for “Juliet’s Nurse.” But she does, as does the show that bears this tuneful if ultimately empty anthem.

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Santino Fontana, Lilli Cooper, Sarah Stiles, John Behlmann, Andy Grotelueschen, Julie Halston, Michael McGrath, Reg Rogers

Open/Close Dates
Opening 4/23/2019
Closing 1/5/2020

Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 3/29/2019
Closing Open-ended

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Theatre Info
Marquis Theatre
1535 Broadway
New York, NY 10036