Monday, January 07, 2013

Ringing in the New Year with 'Hot Nostalgia'


As we begin 2013, what better way to welcome the New Year than with a nostalgic look at the past through song and dance?  Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia brought together ten talented performers and a terrific orchestra to take the audience on a stroll, albeit a fast-paced one, down memory lane.

Conceived by Toby herself, Toby Orenstein, along with Ross Scott Rawlings and Douglas Lawler, this musical revue expressly crafted for this venue, was directed and choreographed by who else but the gifted (and busy) Lawrence B. Munsey who is also currently playing Captain Von Trapp in the Toby’s-Baltimore production of The Sound of Music.   
Hot Nostalgia lifted the audience’s spirits with impeccably performed popular music from the 1930’s through the 1970’s with a whopping 165 songs.  To be clear, most of these numbers are sung partially as one would expect from medleys.  While not all were necessarily chart-toppers, all the selections were popular during the respective era and to many of us now, quite familiar.

The ten-person cast of five guys and five gals sing in various combinations, and it seems like each one has a turn at doing a solo.  But most of the numbers were of the production type with all ten showcasing their strong vocal talents.  As a full group their pitch-perfect voices blend beautifully, and as solos or as part of smaller groups they excel as well.
What makes this show so special is that every song performed regardless of how deep it goes is accompanied by period dancing (jitterbug, lindy, disco) with a few comedic moments spread throughout that enhanced the fun.  Hot Nostalgia is not your run-of-the mill concert; this is a splashy, well-directed and choreographed stage production performed by a talented cast that is creatively costumed by Mary Quinn.

There is no shortage of toe-tapping, hand-clapping joy as the ensemble takes the audience on this magical nostalgic tour through music that began in the golden age of swing and jazz.  Memorable songs like “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “My Funny Valentine” and “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” highlighted the 30’s set.
David James and Janine Sunday in iconic pose
With World War II waging on through the first half of the 40’s a large portion of this segment contained a military theme complete with the old-style uniforms.  Popular numbers such as “This Is The Army, Mr. Jones” and the classic “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” are well performed.  The set concluded with the iconic Times Square kiss (pictured) when the Japanese surrendered.

The 50’s segment featured the Elvis era with songs like “Heartbreak Hotel.”  But other popular numbers such as “Lollipop” are offered too, while some selections in this set spilled into 1960 with the famous hit, “Where the Boys Are.”  Close enough. 
One of the cast members, award-winning performer David James, brought the house down with a hilarious performance as a 50’s-style nerdy character in a few of the numbers.

The 1960’s ushered in wonderful performances including some of the Beach Boys, Beatles and Motown’s huge hits.  Martha and the Vandellas, The Four Tops (five perform in this show), The Temptations, The Drifters, Mary Wells, Stevie Wonder and an utterly funny take on Sonny and Cher’s “I’ve Got You, Babe.”   Also enjoyable were the novelty songs “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and the 1958 “Purple People Eater.”  Cast member Shawn Kettering’s impersonation of Mick Jagger (“Satisfaction”) is fabulous.

Transitioning into the 1970’s the set opens with “Hello Muthah, Hello Fathah” and then brings in “Joy to the World” and other hot selections.  The creative morphing of “I Am Woman” to “Macho Man” to “You’re So Vain” by different groups in the ensemble was the set’s high point.
Old TV commercials and footage of an Ed Sullivan show displayed on various screens on the walls are among the devices cleverly used to transition between decades and allow the stage to be set up in the dark.   The costumes (Quinn), set design (David A. Hopkins), lighting (Coleen M. Foley) and sound (Drew Dedrick) help make this production lively and fun.

And there were no breaks for the stellar orchestra led by Ross Scott Rawlings.  Remember, there are 165 songs. That’s quite a workload, and this group did not miss a beat.
All of the performers deserve recognition: Heather Marie Beck, Debra Buonaccorsi, Tina DeSimone, Prince Havely, Shawn Kettering, David Little, Ashley Parker, Jeffrey Shankle and Janine Sunday. Though all are excellent, Shankle and Parker are leaders of the pack.

The ensemble display powerful voices and accomplished dance moves.  It is not an easy undertaking to perform non-stop vocals with high-energy dancing and rapid costume changes and be on their game, but this group pulled it off.
The trip down memory lane is longer for some.  But no matter your age (or memory), you will have at least heard of a vast majority of these fun songs and enjoy a thoroughly professional cast and crew give your New Year a real jump-start.  Some may quibble over the songs selected and those overlooked, but regardless, Hot Nostalgia is glorious and should not be missed.

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.
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Hot Nostalgia plays through January 27 at Toby’s The Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044.  For tickets call the Box Office at 410-730-8311 or online.  

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