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Behind the Scenes with ‘Tootsie’ Stars Santino Fontana, Lilli Cooper


Chicago has long been a testing ground for Broadway-bound shows. In December 1944, a little-known playwright by the name of Tennessee Williams held auditions for his first major work in Chicago. The play was called “The Glass Menagerie” and after a shaky start at the Civic Opera House, it went on to become one of most important works in American theater.

Cut to October 2018 as the latest Broadway-bound musical has its premiere at the Cadillac Palace Theater. (Read Hedy Weiss’ review of the show here.)

It’s the musical version of the hit 1982 movie “Tootsie” in which Michael Dorsey (played by Dustin Hoffman) becomes a sensation after the too-difficult-to-work-with actor dons a wig and a dress to land a role in a TV soap opera. Thirty-six years later, with soap operas no longer a dominant force on television, the song-and-dance version of “Tootsie” centers around the title character trying get work in the theater. 

Dorsey (and his female creation, Dorothy Michaels) is played by Santino Fontana, who was born the year the film version of “Tootsie” was released. On the challenges of the role, Fontana jokingly says the toughest part is the amount of shaving he needs to do to transform from the obnoxious Dorsey to the enchanting Michaels. 

  • Santino Fontana, center, in “Tootsie.” Also pictured, from left: Drew King, Leslie Donna Flesner, Sissy Bell and John Arthur Greene. (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

    Santino Fontana, center, in “Tootsie.” Also pictured, from left: Drew King, Leslie Donna Flesner, Sissy Bell and John Arthur Greene. (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

  • Santino Fontana as Michael Dorsey in “Tootsie.” (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

    Santino Fontana as Michael Dorsey in “Tootsie.” (Photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Fontana has amassed an impressive resume not only on Broadway (“Sunday in the Park with George,” “Billy Elliott: The Musical,” “Hello, Dolly!” and the starring role of Moss Hart in “Act One”) but also on TV, where for two seasons he cultivated a much different fan base (and got to regularly showcase his singing and dancing chops) on the CW show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” And Fontana won the hearts of many a young moviegoer as the voice of Prince Hans in Disney’s mega-hit “Frozen.”

Jessica Lange won an Oscar for her portrayal of Julie in the movie version of “Tootsie.” For the musical, the role is taken by another young Broadway actress with an impressive pedigree. Lilli Cooper comes from a family of performers. Her father, Chuck Cooper, won a 1997 Tony Award for his performance in the musical “The Life.” Lilli Cooper’s two brothers are also actors, but she has established her own very impressive career. In addition to Broadway roles in “Wicked” and “Spring Awakening,” Chicagoans may recall having seen her three years ago when she played the role of Sandy Cheeks in the pre-Broadway run of “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.”

Fontana and Cooper tell us more about their new show and busy careers.

Meanwhile, “Tootsie” is slated to open on Broadway in April of next year.


Related stories:

New Musical ‘Tootsie’ Eyes Gender Roles, But Its Heart Belongs to Show Business

Themes of Freedom, Faith and Money Fuse With Brilliant Score in ‘Caroline, or Change’

3 Popular Musicals Sing of Quest for Self-Esteem


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