Tootsie at the Marriott Marquis Theatre
Review by Mo Brady
As the final sequence of Tootsie begins, members of the show’s ensemble proudly step forward to address the audience. Giddy with anticipation, their characters are preparing for the opening of Juliet’s Nurse, the show-within-a-show in the new Broadway musical Tootsie. Carrying bouquets of flowers and performing vocal warm ups, they happily present the evening as “The Most Important Night Of My Life.” While it’s difficult to describe Tootsie as an “important” night at the theatre, it certainly is a whole lot of fun.
In Tootsie, the 12-person ensemble mostly portray foils for leading man Santino Fontana. Cast members of Fontana’s Michael Dorsey (and then Dorothy Michaels), the company represent his journey from unlikeable to empathetic. However, beyond some athletic and enjoyable choreography from Denis Jones (Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn), there’s not much else for them to do. While the show as a whole is a lark, thanks to a joke-dense libretto by Robert Horn and impressive leading performances by Fontana, Andy Grotelueschen, Sarah Stiles and more, Tootsie is best viewed from the surface.
From the audience at the Marriott Marquis, it’s not easy to see where the cast of Tootsie ends and the cast of Juliet’s Nurse begins. While they are performing familiar and often humorous tropes of the theatre, none of these performers, dressers and stage managers in Tootsie’s ensemble play are distinguishable personalities. When your cast is stacked with such estimable Broadway veterans as Paula Leggett Chase and James Moye, it’s a shame that they aren’t given more to do.
Tootsie’s ensemble are certainly proficient at their roles. As the writing team for Juliet’s Nurse, Britney Coleman and Nick Spangler provide some memorable laughs. Leslie Donna Flesner and Katerina Papacostas also bring humor as two failed auditors for the show-within-a-show. Together, the ensemble cast sings Angela Brody’s vocal arrangements crisply and execute Jones’ choreography with bravado. But beyond the occasional solo line or bit part, they are hardly an intrinsic part of the show’s energy.
In musical theatre, there are essentially two kinds of ensemble characters. Either they are distinct personalities (such as in SpongeBob SquarePants, Mean Girls or Newsies) or work together to alternatively challenge or support the protagonist (like in Frozen, Aladdin or King Kong). Tootsie lands squarely in the second camp.
For the audience, this results in a fun but ultimately light evening at the theatre. For a show about a man who multiple men and women fall in love with, I found myself notably unattached to the proceedings. However, I did laugh a whole hell of a lot. And sometimes, that’s just what you need from a night at the theatre.