For theater lovers from Anne Arundel County, a trip to Columbia these days offers the chance to see some familiar faces shining in a stellar production of the classic American musical, "Show Boat."
Members of the exceptional cast in the show — on stage at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia through March 19 — include Arundel residents Elizabeth Rayca, who displays dance and comedic versatility; David Bosley-Reynolds, who shines in triple roles; and Anwar Thomas and Andre Hinds, who are Arundel residents and alumni of the dance program at Anne Arundel Community College.
Over its 37-year history, Toby's has garnered more than 80 coveted Helen Hayes Award nominations for its productions. It will be no surprise if "Show Boat" adds to that tally.
Co-directors Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick fully utilize Toby's intimate in-the-round space to draw audiences into the fast-paced action. Acclaimed choreographer Minnick uses floor space for dancers' near-perfect execution of his choreography of popular American dances spanning 30 years, from the 1890s to roaring '20s.
Rayca, performing as Ellie May Chipley, is paired with Jeffrey Shankle as Frank Schultz to form the dance team of Schultz and Schultz. Together they light up the stage with comic dances executed while bickering over top billing — with Rayca's Ellie May mostly dominating.
All of their dance routines are impeccably executed and delightfully entertaining, accentuated with dazzling costumes. Rayca, who has also performed in Toby's productions of "Ragtime," "The Addams Family" and "Oklahoma," establishes her strong dance and comedic credentials as Ellie May.
Speaking of dance, singing stevedores Thomas and Hinds also do Arundel proud in their numbers, lighting up Toby's stage with grace and vitality. One of the best-known songs of the score, "Ol' Man River" is given honest treatment by bass-baritone Marquis White as Joe — with the addition of a singing trio of Hinds, Thomas and DeCarlo Raspberry.
Annapolis resident and Toby's regular David Bosley-Reynolds shows his versatility, playing three roles. Bosley-Reynolds recently shined in Toby's production of "Scrooge," and in "Show Boat," he's menacing as Sheriff Vallon, a fine baritone as Jim, and serves as understudy for the role of Captain Andy.
In other cast notes, Abby Middleton is perfectly cast as Magnolia Hawks, showing off a terrific singing voice, arresting beauty and a radiant smile. She projects a beguiling innocence, and invests heart-felt emotion in every song from "Make Believe" to "Can't Help Loving that Man."
Russell Rinker's Gaylord Ravenal displays undeniable magnetism and a classically trained powerful voice in songs such as "Where's the Mate for Me." And his rapturous "You Are Love" duet with Middleton's Magnolia provides the show's romantic peak.
Julia Lancione is stellar in the role of Julie LaVerne, whose tragic destiny results from her mixed-racial heritage that separates her from adoring husband Steven Baker, played by Justin Calhoun. Lancione fills the role's every requirement, doing full justice to classic torch songs "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and "My Bill," and also displaying fine acting skills as she confronts jealous pursuer Pete, played by Jeremy Scott Blaustein.
An enduring relationship is White's relaxed Joe with hard-working wife Queenie, played by Samantha Deininger. And as Captain Andy Hawks, Robert John Biedermann is well-suited with wife Parthy, played by Jane C. Boyle.
As usual, David Hopkin's skilled lighting and minimalist set creation enhances every scene. Costumes by AT Jones & Co. offer an attractive array, and musical direction by Ross Scott Rawlings and his six-piece pit orchestra adds drama to vocalists' solos and duets.
Arundel performers in "Show Boat" are certainly worthy of a drive to Columbia — and with this production, it's a trip worth taking. For information, call 410-730-8311, 1-800-88TOBYS or 301-596-6161.