Upon opening at the Marquis Theatre April 23, Tootsie became part of a time-honored theatre narrative: the show-within-a-show. Playbill greeted the creative team and cast during the afterparty celebration at Pier 60. (Watch the video below.)
In the 1982 film Tootsie, Michael Dorsey is a notoriously difficult actor who disguises himself as Dorothy Michaels to book the job. But on Broadway, Michael creates Dorothy to book the part of the Nurse in the newest Broadway musical Juliet’s Curse, a sequel to Romeo & Juliet.
“It was one of the earliest decisions that we made,” book writer Robert Horn told Playbill live on the red carpet. “Soap opera worked perfectly for the movie but obviously soap operas don't have the relevance culturally that they did in 1982.... It just sort of felt like a natural evolution.”
Another natural evolution? The laughs. “Our prime directive was to write a show where you don't stop laughing,” said composer-lyricist David Yazbek. “That informs how you write the music.”
While Yazbek won his first Tony Award last year for The Band’s Visit, he confessed that writing comedy is a monumental challenge. “Writing funny lyrics is really hard. It's not that hard to write a clever song or a touching song, but to write something that really makes people laugh and then have it floating above music or intertwined with music is not easy,” he said.
One of the funniest songs in the show is sung by Sarah Stiles as Sandy, Michael’s neurotic ex. Her song, “What’s Gonna Happen” has not changed since day one—and thank goodness. The tongue-twister tests Stiles' limits. “It was very daunting to learn but as soon as I learned it, it's never leaving my head. I'm pretty sure it will stay with me forever,” she said.
Leading player Santino Fontana, however, says that his songs have continued to change. Although he found his Dorothy voice by singing one of her songs in every single key of a single octave and then choosing which sounded the most like a woman, that key does not remain consistent. “Over time, I’ve gotten better at it, so then we had to change it for that because it didn't sound the same because it was easier” and speaking like Dorothy always needs to seem like a challenge for Michael.
Fontana loves playing two sides of the same coin. “I love that he's myopic. He only sees himself at first,” he said. “Dorothy is the great defender of everybody. Is carefree and lovely and funny and kind and warm and thinking of other people primarily. To get to play both sides of things is fantastic.”
Of course, it also calls for a lot of wardrobe gymnastics and Fontana says his quickest change is a mere ten seconds. “All the dressers, my dresser Lauren Gallitelli, Brian Strumwasser, and Margo Lawless, there are so many people. It takes a village down there. I am dependent on them.”
The night could not end without speaking to leading lady Lilly Cooper, who plays Julie, the actor playing the lead in Juliet’s Curse and Michael’s would-be love interest and Dorothy’s actual friend.
Cooper relishes being able to show sides of the female experience rarely seen on a Broadway stage, like female friendship. “It can feel safe to be with another woman and to share what you love with another woman. And because Julie believes she's making a friendship with another woman, she feels safe and open and able to be honest and real in who she is. So that really allows them to dive deeper into this friendship than had it been Michael,” she said.
As for showing some of the struggles Julie endures as a 2019 woman, Cooper said, “It's really joyous to be able to put out a shared experience and I can feel that, it's very palpable with the audience—especially with the female-identifying audience."
What Tootsie does well is integrate the conversation of gender equality. As Fontana told Playbill, “Men have to be a part of the conversation of how to help spread equality to everyone because we're not done.”