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'Tootsie' review: As a woman, Santino Fontana is dressed to thrill

Santino Fontana, center, takes on Dustin Hoffman's screen

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

WHAT "Tootsie"

WHERE Marquis Theatre, 210 W. 46th St.

INFO From $79; 877-250-2929, ticketmaster.com

BOTTOM LINE Santino Fontana is a powerhouse in this entertaining update of the 1982 hit movie.

First things first: Santino Fontana really rocks that iconic red gown. But there’s more than a guy in a great dress to "Tootsie," the entertaining and touching new musical at the Marquis Theatre, a screen-to-stage adaptation that gets it right. 

In this update of Sydney Pollack’s 1982 movie, Fontana takes on the title role famously played by Dustin Hoffman (who gets a credit in the Playbill for underlying rights, whatever that means). Fontana plays talented but temperamental actor Michael Dorsey, who decides to audition as a woman when he finds no one will hire him, largely because he doesn’t know when to shut up. 

Robert Horn (book) and David Yazbek (music and lyrics) wisely don’t give us a repeat of the film. They’ve set Tootsie 2.0 in the present, with the action taking place in a Broadway musical instead of a tacky soap opera. Still, the basic idea is the same, meaning Michael Dorsey becomes Dorothy Michaels and turns a bit part in the "Romeo and Juliet" sequel "Juliet's Curse" (are Shakespeare sequels now a thing?) into a star turn that makes the show-within-a-show a major hit.

Fontana, in his first true Broadway lead, is a powerhouse, slipping flawlessly between genders and voices, but always with an endearing charm that makes you love his performance, whether man or woman. Director Scott Ellis provides great backup, with standouts in this fine cast including Lilli Cooper and Sarah Stiles as the two women Dorsey is in love with, Andy Grotelueschen  as his wannabe playwright pal and Reg Rogers, injecting #MeToo issues into the proceedings as a sleazy director who can’t restrain his objectionable behavior even though he knows it’s wrong.

"Tootsie" is a grand, old-school musical with a full orchestra and an actual overture (remember those?), enhanced by David Rockwell’s cityscape set and a gorgeous display of costumes by William Ivey Long, especially the couture-worthy ensembles for the wonderful Julie Halston as producer Rita Marshall.

Throughout, it's all great fun, from the sick one-liners and cringeworthy puns to enough inside theater references to put "Something Rotten" to shame. (The opening night song "The Most Important Night of My Life" will never top "Another Op'nin', Another Show," but it's still a delight). But as in the film, there are important take-aways, lessons Dorothy imparts to Michael about the trials women face. When he declares that "being a woman is no job for a man," you sense overwhelming agreement from the women in the audience. But you get the feeling the men are at least listening.

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