Toby's shining rendition of 'Show Boat'

For The Baltimore Sun
Expertise in song, dance and acting make for a winning "Show Boat" at Toby's.

Over its 37-year history, Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia has garnered more than 80 Helen Hayes Award nominations for its productions. It will be no surprise if it adds to that tally with its current production of the classic American musical "Show Boat."

Often described as the first true American musical, Jerome Kern's 1927 'Show Boat' is based on Edna Ferber's novel — adapted by Oscar Hammerstein, who also supplied the lyrics.

Co-directors Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick make full use of Toby's intimate in-the-round space to draw audiences into the fast-paced action.

Acclaimed choreographer Minnick uses floor space for the dancers' execution of popular American dances spanning 30 years, from the 1890s to the Roaring '20s.

Musical direction by Ross Scott Rawlings and his six-piece pit orchestra brings drama when accompanying vocalists' solos and duets — perhaps best illustrated in the show's signature song, "Ol' Man River." Bass-baritone Marquis White as Joe gives the song power, accompanied by a singing stevedore trio of Andre Hinds, Anwar Thomas and DeCarlo Raspberry — who also show off exceptional dance skills.

Toby's "Show Boat" introduces Abby Middleton, cast as Magnolia Hawks, daughter of boat captain Andy Hawks. Middleton shows off a terrific singing voice, arresting beauty and a radiant smile. She projects a beguiling innocence, and invests heartfelt emotion in songs from "Make Believe" to "Can't Help Loving that Man."

Russell Rinker as 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 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.

Elizabeth 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. Their routines are impeccably executed and delightfully entertaining.

As lovable Frank, Shankle delivers his usual first-rate performance while Rayca establishes her strong dance and comedic credentials.

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.

An enduring relationship is White's relaxed Joe with hardworking wife Queenie, played by Samantha Deininger.

And as Captain Andy Hawks, Robert John Biedermann is well-paired with Jane C. Boyle, who plays his wife, Parthy. This long-wed couple share only their pride in daughter Magnolia, with Captain Andy communicating credible paternal devotion.

David Hopkin's skilled lighting and minimalist set creation enhances every scene. Costumes by AT Jones & Co. offer an attractive array.

"Show Boat" at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, continues through March 19. For tickets and show times, call 410-730-8311, 1-800-88TOBYS or 301-596-6161.

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