Native Eugenean and former Register-Guard reporter Janelle Hartman makes regular Amtrak treks to New York City and its theaters from her home in the Washington, D.C. area.

By Janelle Hartman

Calling them plays or musicals is the simplest way to distinguish Broadway shows, but that doesn’t necessarily tell you what you need to know. Even the subcategories “comedy” and “drama” leave the door wide open to all sorts of theater experiences.

All of them fall somewhere on an imaginary sliding scale in my head, from avant-garde (or just plain weird) to slam-dunk crowd pleasers.

The hilarious Tootsie lands close to the far end — thoroughly entertaining, if a few beats short of being the kind of intoxicating musical that swallows me whole.

Those are rare. But Tootsie, which opens April 23 at the Marriott Marquis Theatre in New York City, is rock solid with charming songs, clever dance, great casting, rotating sets against a dazzling skyline backdrop, and an audience that roars with laughter from beginning to end.

The story line is updated creatively from the 1982 movie (one of my favorites), including changes sensitive to the #MeToo movement. The revival of Kiss Me Kate that I wrote about last month made similar tweaks, as virtually any show being revived or adapted from Hollywood will have to do from now on.

Happily, Tootsie’s plot is intact, minus a secondary story or two. It’s chock full of fresh humor along with classic bits — like the “tomato” scene in the agent’s office, where headstrong actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman in the movie) is told repeatedly that he’s burned all his bridges on Broadway and  “No one will hire you.”

The most obvious difference is a change in venue. Instead of the movie’s soap-opera setting, the musical revolves around a nutty, highly improbable Broadway sequel to “Romeo and Juliet.”

Dorsey, transformed by wig, makeup and a dress into middle-aged “Dorothy Michaels,” lands what becomes the starring role opposite his love interest Julie and a buff, half-wit reality star hired to bare his abs. The character sparked a lot of the show’s big laughs, and could bring supporting actor John Behlmann a Tony nomination come April 30.

Not that I’m making any predictions in a theater season as abundant as this one. With quantity and quality bursting at the seams, all that’s certain is that many richly deserving performers and shows will fall through the cracks. Narrowing down my choices for nominees is already impossible, and I’m cramming in four more shows over the long Easter weekend (where on the East Coast, many employers treat Good Friday as a holiday).

Befuddled as a I am, I hope Tootsie’s star, Santino Fontana, gets a nod for lead actor in a musical. He’s a Pacific Northwest kid, an alum of the Academy of Children’s Theater in Richland, Wash. He’s got a bright future on Broadway, nomination or not.

Not long after Tootsie the movie was released in late 1982, I took a film class and recall the instructor comparing Dustin Hoffman’s turn as Dorothy Michaels to earlier cross-dressing roles, such as Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot. Entertaining as they were, she was keenly aware they were men in drag. With Hoffman as Dorothy, it was easy to forget she was watching a male actor. Fontana’s portrayal struck me the same way.

Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones gushed about Fontana and his vocal range in a mostly-rave review during the show’s tryout run in Chicago last fall. Among the flaws he cited, the biggest was the final show-within-a-show scene when Dorothy reveals all.

In the movie it’s such a hoot, zooming in as jaws drop on the soap opera set and in friends’ living rooms while Dorothy ad-libs a crazy tale and transforms back to Michael on live TV. In the absence of video screens — which you see more of these days in Broadway productions -— the comical shock of the movie close-ups can’t be replicated on stage.

It’s a safe bet that New York critics will pounce on the scene. Whether they’ll enjoy the rest of the show as much as the Tribune and I did, well, let’s say I’ve been conditioned to expect that reviewers will find fault where I find joy.

But with a production this crowd-pleasing, even a batch of mixed reviews will hand the Tootsie marketing team plenty of exuberant blurbs to splash across the marquee and fill full-page ads in the Sunday New York Times.

We’ll find out for sure when the curtain goes up April 23.

Tips: If you plan to see Tootsie, keep in mind that the Marquis Theatre (inside the Marriott Marquis hotel in the center of the theater district) is one of the largest houses on Broadway. I’ve kicked myself more than once for forgetting my opera glasses. Mid-mezzanine in that cavernous black box feels far more distant than it does in most of the 40 other Broadway theaters. That doesn’t mean you should spend a fortune to sit closer. Just be sure to pack some pocket binoculars. For performances through the end of May, you can buy discount tickets ($30 to $50 savings) for available seats in each section of the theater using a code.

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