Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia often delivers the unexpected — even in a show called "Hot Nostalgia II," billed as "an original musical review."
It's all that and more, featuring a kaleidoscope of musical moments from the 1920s through the 1980s, performed by a talented cast backed up by pianist Ross Scott Rawlings and a five-piece combo.
The near-capacity audience at a recent Sunday matinee ranged across all ages and shared a common goal of extending celebration of the new year. It was a mood that was brightened by the performance on stage.
More than a concert, Toby's "Hot Nostalgia II" is a look back at America's musical heritage spanning several decades. As the show moves from the Jazz Age through the Age of Aquarius, acts saluted include Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Sonny and Cher and the Village People.
A segment that includes "Ain't Misbehaving" and "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" is delivered by Prince Havely, who has recently been seen on stage in Kennedy Center productions. Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" had the audience clapping and hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho-ing with the ensemble, bringing new life to a classic.
Introduced by "Tuxedo Junction" and novelty song "Three Little Fishies," a segment on music from the World War II era gives a nod to the Andrews Sisters, with "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy," and to English wartime vocalist Vera Lynn in "White Cliffs of Dover." The latter is beautifully sung by Toby's four-time Helen Hayes Award nominee, Janine Sunday.
Another warmly delivered favorite, "I'll be Seeing You," receives its deserved classic treatment. Throughout this segment, the mix of ballads and lively tunes such as "Chattanooga Choo Choo" could not be better.
Toby's ensemble of singers and dancers includes familiar players, such as Heather Marie Beck, Debra Buonaccorsi, Tina DeSimone, David James, Shawn Kettering and Jeffrey Shankle, along with relative newcomer David Little, of Toby's recent "Color Purple" production, and Ashley Parker, who makes a terrific Toby's debut.
Proving her versatility, DeSimone delivers infectious 1930s swing tunes along with decades-later Supremes' songs, and then becomes Sonny to Deb Buonaccoris's dynamite Cher. Jeff Shankle and David James give their all dancing and singing in an array of numbers saluting groups from the Beach Boys to the Beatles.
Parker proves she can belt out a song in high style, and knows the right moves to add her own special flair to Toby's chorus line. Little again displays a distinctively warm voice that adds magic to every song he performs.
Prince Havely's career at Toby's dates back 20 years with his first appearance in "Big River," and here he contributes mightily to several numbers spanning many decades.
Director and choreographer Lawrence B. Munsey gives the audience a great gift in a show that brings us the music of our lives. Music director Rawlings makes the magic happen with his five-piece combo. They are supported by set designer David Hopkins, lighting designer Coleen Foley, sound designer Drew Dedrick and the costume design of Mary Quinn.
The show evokes feelings as only songs are able to do. Most are up-tempo, as in 1930s swing tunes and rocking Elvis-era numbers. Still, Gershwin ballads retain their timeless appeal, and the songs of Irving Berlin deserve special mention, as they tell us much about 20th-century American history.
One can hardly think of a better way to start the new year than in this nostalgic trip back through American music — the fabric of our culture.