“Sophie’s Choice,” “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “Gandhi.” Turns out 1982 wasn’t a bad year for movies. But when it came to box office numbers, “E.T.” blew them all away. And in second place was “Tootsie,” the unlikely tale of struggling actor Michael Dorsey (played by Dustin Hoffman), who auditions for a female role on a soap, lands the part of Dorothy, and learns a bit about himself in the process. Now, the Sydney Pollack-directed movie is getting the Broadway musical treatment, running at the Cadillac Palace Theatre Sept. 11–Oct. 14.
As Dorothy, Michael stands up to sexism both on and off the soap set, but the film no doubt falls short of today’s evolved standards. Like the recently adapted “Pretty Woman,” the musical will have to balance the movie’s comedic charm with the way most of us think now. As Michael/Dorothy, Tony-nominee Santino Fontana (“Cinderella,” “Frozen”) will be front and center in that challenge. While he’s loathe to say too much on that subject before opening night, he does speak enthusiastically about how well the material reflects the world he knows.
“My friends and I always joke that a working actor in New York really only gets to know 10 blocks of the city well, and that movie is shot in those 10 blocks,” says Fontana. “The struggle of actors hustling to get seen for things and dealing with the neurosis of being an actor and all the rejection — that’s all so spot on.”
While inhabiting the character of Dorothy, Michael falls for Julie, a fellow cast member on his soap. His failure to reveal his true gender as he gets closer to her is problematic in the film, and certainly doesn’t ring right today. But according to Fontana, the play works to maintain the story’s core universal themes while updating it for modern audiences.
“Times have definitely changed since 1982,” says Fontana. “But what hasn’t changed is that people still fight for opportunity, people still fight for connection, for love. And people make mistakes that get them in situations they have to get out of. The reason the movie is so beloved is because Larry Gelbart’s screenplay understood that stories live and die on those basic primal human needs. Michael and Julie’s relationship is one of the things that’s changed the most from the film, in a great way. I think we’re successfully walking that line of giving audiences what they love and remember from the movie, but updating it and making it speak to today in a refreshing way. I think audiences will be pleasantly surprised.”
‘Tootsie’: Sept. 11-Oct.14, Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph; for tickets ($30-$155), visit Broadwayinchicago.com