This Sunday (June 9th), the 73rd Annual Tony Awards will take place at Radio City Musical Hall in New York City. As part of our countdown to the biggest night on Broadway, we’re spotlighting some of this year’s most nominated productions – including Ain’t Too Proud, Beetlejuice, Be More Chill, The Ferryman, Oklahoma, and The Prom.
With eleven Tony nominations, Tootsie is a nonstop parade of hilarity. Winner of Best Musical at the Drama Critics’ Circle Awards, this Tootsie is far from the same one seen in the 1982 film. Though it’s a natural instinct to wonder why and how Tootsie could be a relevant story in 2019, this show subverts the movie’s incessant gay panic into a powerful and necessary lesson in understanding, acceptance and confidence.
Last year, composer David Yazbek collected a vast array of accolades for his work on The Band’s Visit– including a Tony Award, Grammy Award, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award. This year, Yazbek has written the music and lyrics for Tootsie. If his recent repeat wins for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics at the Drama Desk Awards are any indication, it’s quite possible that lightning can strike twice in a row at the Tonys as well. Either way, Yazbek has yet another smash hit under his belt.
Directed by Scott Ellis and featuring a laugh-out-loud and Drama Desk-winning book by Robert Horn, Tootsie is ripe with unforgettable performances. Not only is star Santino Fontana Tony-nominated, but so are three featured actors – Lilli Cooper,Sarah Stiles and Andy Grotelueschen. Between Tootsie and Hadestown, audiences this season have been treated to two new musicals that have each accomplished the uncommon feat of landing four individual acting nominations.
Tootsie tells the story of Michael Dorsey, a down-on-his-luck actor whose attitude prevents him from keeping any job that’s not in a restaurant. With his fortieth birthday comes a realization that the only way to really cement himself as an actor is if he changes his name—and identity—altogether. By transforming himself into a woman named Dorothy Michaels, Michael suddenly becomes the titular character in a new Broadway show, Juliet’s Nurse. But with his new persona comes a new awareness that has profound consequences.
Having already won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards, Fontana is considered by many as the Leading Actor in a Musical frontrunner at this weekend’s Tony Awards. One listen to Dorothy’s first solo, “I Won’t Let You Down,” will make it apparent why that’s the case. Santana belts at the very top of his range while simultaneously showing off Dorothy’s passion, and this versatile performer’s undeniable determination is always on full display. His Dorothy is flawed but full of heart, smart but willing to learn more, and tenacious but vulnerable. In his ninth Broadway production, Fontana has clearly found his defining role.
As Julie, Dorothy’s co-star in Juliet’s Nurse, Cooper is sensational. Her second act number, “Gone, Gone, Gone,” is without a doubt the show’s best. Complete with a trio of backup singers, the song sounds like a musical theater twist on 90s R&B classics by the likes of Xscape, En Vogue and Destiny’s Child. The song’s harmonies are as catchy as they are intricate, allowing Cooper’s vocal prowess to be gloriously exhibited. It’s no wonder that it’s the track included on this year’s Tony Award Season compilation album as Tootsie’s best foot forward.
Competing with Cooper in the Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical category at Sunday’s ceremony is Stiles as Sandy Lester, Michael’s paranoid and needy ex-turned-close friend. Her standout solo, “What’s Gonna Happen,” is a welcome, reliable punch line each time that its hilariously reprised. Stiles terrifically plays Sandy like a frenetic combination of Rent’s Maureen, Into the Woods’ Little Red Riding Hood, Friends’ Phoebe Buffay, and Real Housewives of New York’s Sonja Morgan. What else would you even need for the price of admission?
Also nominated in a featured acting category is Grotelueschen as Jeff, Michael’s deadpan roommate and restaurant co-worker. As the voice of reason that Michael nor Dorothy listen to, Jeff is the only one to warn of the trouble—and damage—their secret can cause. His uproarious “Jeff Sums It Up” joins the comedic lineage of energetic showstoppers like “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” from Waitress or “Get Me to the Church on Time” from My Fair Lady. With his dry humor and quick wit, Grotelueschen’s Jeff is a stabilizing force in an otherwise spinning sequence of events.
Though the movie has hardly aged gracefully, this Tootsie’s contemporary setting allows it to lean into social commentary that this story previously hasn’t. While Michael first becomes Dorothy to achieve a specific goal, it’s the unexpected lessons she ultimately teaches him that help him discover who he really is.
In this iteration, Michael considers himself far more a feminist than a womanizer. His journey is paved with educational—and sometimes eye-opening—moments from women far more experienced than Dorothy ever could be. As a result, Broadway’s Tootsie is new, improved, and more relevant than ever.
CLICK HERE to buy tickets for Tootsie, now playing at the Marriott Marquis Theatre.