Five decades of music come to life at Toby's


Holiday Hot Nostalgia, the current production at Toby's Dinner Theatre, is the perfect present for anyone who loves American popular music -- a lively tour through five decades of favorite songs.

It starts with a nod to the season ("Sleigh Ride, Winter Wonderland"). Then a 1938 number called "Thanks for the Memory" carries the audience back to the big-band era.

"Tuxedo Junction" gets a jazzy performance by Felicia Curry. "Sing, Sing, Sing" and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" keep up the mood. For contrast there are ballads such as "I'll Never Smile Again" and a couple of novelties: "Friendship" and "Three Little Fishies."

A series of World War II songs begins with Irving Berlin's "This Is the Army, Mr. Jones." David James shows his considerable comic talent in "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," a Berlin tune revived from 1918.

The Andrews Sisters' close-harmony hit "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" is covered by Janine Gulisano, Tess Rohan and Jill Shullenbarger. The war's end gives James and Gulisano a chance to act out the famous news photo of a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J Day.

The 1950s bring a new and startling style of music: rock 'n' roll. Boys in jackets and ties, girls in poodle skirts dance to "We're Going Hopping," the theme song of American Bandstand.

Danny and the Juniors and the Mudlarks are recalled in song.

Inevitably, Elvis makes his appearance (an effective impression by Russell Sunday) singing "Jailhouse Rock." Sunday, Shawn Kettering and Daniel McDonald become black-clad motorcyclists for the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack"

"The Chipmunk Song" brings a lighter mood, and Act I ends with more holiday numbers, including Spike Jones' "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" and "Jingle Bell Rock."

Holiday Hot Nostalgia was devised by music director Doug Lawler with Ross Scott Rawlings and Toby Orenstein.

It is a solidly constructed show, alternating big numbers with solos and duets, lively numbers with quiet ones. The songs are played and sung in the style of their period. Adding spice to the proceedings are frequent touches of comedy and occasional impressions of recording stars.

Each song (there are about 80) has appropriate staging by Orenstein and choreography by Ilona Kessell, keeping the cast busy with split-second entrances and exits. Costume coordinator Samn Huffer helps by putting the performers in basic black and designing simple add-ons, appropriate to the time period, for each scene.

In Act II, the 1950s merge into the 1960s. After a few holiday numbers, Tess Rohan gets laughs with a Rosemary Clooney number, "Suzy Snowflake."

The performers dance the twist (remember the twist?), and the scene changes to summer for a number from the Drifters, "Under the Boardwalk." Sonny and Cher are recalled with "I Got You, Babe," and Mary Wells' "My Guy" is followed, appropriately, by the Temptations' "My Girl."

The biggest pop music event of the 1960s, of course, was the coming of the Beatles. James, Kettering, McDonald and Sunday portray the Fab Four, singing "Revolution" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand."

Suddenly we're in the hippie era of the 1970s. The performers wear long hair and sweatbands and sing songs with social messages: "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" "The Age of Aquarius," "Joy to the World," Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" and John Lennon's "Imagine."

It's back to the holidays for the finale: Christmas with a German, Italian, Hawaiian and Mexican flavor, a touch of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" and, finally, from 1934, "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town."

Toby's Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, presents Holiday Hot Nostalgia through Jan. 2. Doors open at 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday. For matinees, doors open at 10:30 a.m. Sunday and Wednesday. Reservations are required. Information or reservations: 410-730-8311 or 800-888-6297.

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