With only a couple of previews in Chicago under its corset, “Tootsie” is shaping up to be a hit.
Buzz was building during rehearsals for Santino Fontana, as the main character, and it exploded after the first performance Tuesday night at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
“I just saw next year’s Tony-winning performance for Best Actor in a Musical,” a high-powered Broadway executive texted when the curtain came down.
Fontana plays the Dustin Hoffman role of Michael Dorsey, an actor so fussy and demanding, nobody will cast him. He transforms himself into Dorothy Michaels and becomes a star — and a better person.
The stage version retains “the bones” of the 1982 movie, a production source says, “but has been completely rethought for the stage.”
The big change is the setting. The movie took place in the world of soap operas. The musical’s creators — composer David Yazbek, writer Robert Horn and director Scott Ellis — have set their story on Broadway, where Dorothy becomes a musical-comedy sensation of Bette Midler-like fame.
While the film had Dorothy’s rise chronicled via magazine covers, accompanied by the lyrics “Go, Tootsie, go!,” the musical shows her name appearing on one Broadway marquee after another.
Michael’s love interest, Julie (Lilli Cooper, late of “SpongeBob SquarePants”), still throws a martini in Michael’s face, but the musical has eliminated her father (played by Charles Durning in the movie), who unwittingly falls in love with Dorothy. In the stage adaptation, her admirer is now the male lead in the show within the show.
Dorothy’s director in the musical is modeled on Dabney Coleman’s sexist soap director. As played by Reg Rogers, the character is still arrogant but, in these #MeToo times, no longer a predator.
Michael McGrath has a memorable turn as Michael’s long-suffering agent, but the restaurant they meet in has been switched from the Russian Tea Room to something resembling Joe Allen.
Gone altogether is the most famous line in the film: “How do you feel about Cleveland?”
But the musical has some fresh zingers from Horn, who’s written for some funny TV series, “Designing Women” among them.
“It’s a real book musical,” says a source, adding: “The wit and romance from the movie are in place.”
“Tootsie” opens Sept. 30 in Chicago. Previews begin March 29 in New York at the Marquis Theatre.
Go to the “Tootsie” box office, go!
British theater royalty turned out for director Peter Hall’s memorial service Tuesday at Westminster Abbey. The list of legends included Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Ian McKellen and Vanessa Redgrave.
David Hare thanked Hall for launching and boosting the careers of many “pale male” playwrights like himself in the second half of the 20th century.
Richard Eyre recalled pitching shows to Hall at the National Theatre, which Hall ran from 1973 to 1988. The late director, Eyre said, was extremely attentive and took lots of notes. As Eyre got up to leave, he looked over at Hall’s desk and saw the notes began with, “Pick up dry cleaning.”
At a private event at the National after the service, Simon Callow told a funny story about Maggie Smith being one of Hall’s first stage managers. While he was talking, Smith came out and began sweeping the stage “very Carol Burnett style,” says one of the VIPs.
You can hear Michael Riedel weekdays on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” on WOR radio 710.
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