‘Tootsie’ review: Musical adaptation disappoints

Santino Fontana, center, takes on Dustin Hoffman's screen role in the musical version of "Tootsie."
Santino Fontana, center, takes on Dustin Hoffman’s screen role in the musical version of "Tootsie." Photo Credit: MTA

‘Tootsie’ plays an open run at the Marquis Theatre. 210 W. 46th St., tootsiemusical.com.

“This musical sucks!” declares Michael Dorsey (aka Dorothy Michaels) at the beginning of “Tootsie,” the new Broadway musical based on the 1982 cross-dressing film comedy starring Dustin Hoffman. Although the remark was made in regard to an intentionally cheesy show-within-a-show sequence, it could apply just as easily to “Tootsie” in and of itself.

As in the film, Dorsey (Santino Fontana) is a temperamental, out-of-work actor who decides to cross-dress under the alias of the spunky Dorothy Michaels in order to audition for an available role for a female character actor. But instead of joining a 1980s hospital soap opera, Michael/Dorothy instead joins the cast of “Juliet’s Curse,” a misconceived, big-budget Broadway musical that continues the saga of “Romeo and Juliet.”

The supporting characters are similar to those in the film, including a sexist director (Reg Rogers), cheeky roommate (Andy Grotelueschen), attractive co-star/love interest (Lilli Cooper) and neurotic friend (Sarah Stiles), in addition to the caring producer (Julie Halston) and no-nonsense agent (Michael McGrath). The two older men who develop romantic feelings for Dorothy in the film have been replaced by a young, dimwitted reality TV star (John Behlmann).

The writers deserve some credit for not blindly following the film and making changes to the setting and dialogue in an attempt to better suit it to a new medium, but the resulting product is substandard.

Songwriter David Yazbek (“The Band’s Visit”) rehashes the busy, jazzy rhythms of his earlier works (including “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”) without inspiration and otherwise inserts generic solos and chorus bits.

Robert Horn’s book is chock-full of one-liners straining hard for laughs without much wit. For example: “A director told me he’d rather watch a 3D movie of his conception than ever work with you again.” Recurring comments connecting the plot with the #MeToo movement are at least well-intended.

Director Scott Ellis is best known for staging revivals of classic musicals for the Roundabout Theatre Company (including most recently “Kiss Me, Kate”). With flowing choreography by Denis Jones and a multi-set production design, Ellis clearly intended for “Tootsie” to operate as an old-fashioned musical comedy set in the present day, but he is stymied by an inability to inspire better material from the writers. His production is busy but empty and uninspired.

Fontana, an ideal leading man under most circumstances, navigates the role’s unique physical challenges, but he lacks the necessary obnoxious edge. The supporting cast members bring much-appreciated doses of personality and comic sensibility, but it is hardly sufficient to save “Tootsie.”

On a final note of interest, Dustin Hoffman receives a credit in the playbill for “underlying rights,” marking the actor’s first Broadway credit since a 1989 production of “The Merchant of Venice.”