After eight months of being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia is bringing back live theatre at just the right time when we all could use a little cheer. And they're doing so with an abundance of caution.
The musical revue, Home for the Holidays, celebrates the season with classic and popular Christmas tunes—all of them it seems—with a Chanukah and Kwanzaa song in the mix for good measure in a festive and colorful setting.
There are substantive changes to the in-the-round theater to deal with the coronavirus but the level of entertainment hasn’t missed a beat during the hiatus. Toby’s has adhered to state and county guidelines to assure the health and safety of their employees and patrons. The theatre will have a reduced capacity audience of 90 or less guests per performance with socially distanced table seating and mask requirements.
Patrons are screened as they enter the theater and hand sanitizers are available. The audience is required to continue to wear masks during the performance and exit the theater according to section.
Toby’s famous buffet has been temporarily replaced with plated menu dinner service (the quality of the food and presentation remain high). Seating throughout the theater has been adjusted to allow for recommended distancing between tables, which will not be shared by other parties.
To further protect the patrons, there is a no contact menu system whereby a QR code on each table is available to be scanned on a phone. The menu can also be viewed online.
“It was a challenge but I made sure that the performers remain distanced from each other and the audience at all times,” said Helen Hayes Award winner Mark Minnick, who adroitly directed and choreographed Home for the Holidays. Each performer wears a plexiglass face shield to enhance safety.
View here for more details about the Covid-19 protocols employed by Toby’s.
The lively production is fast paced and joyful with so many familiar songs, you cannot help but sing along. “Deck the Halls,” “Jingle Bells,” "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Oh Holy Night," "Angels We Have Heard on High," Up on the Housetop," "Toyland" and "Go Tell it on the Mountain" are just a few of the dozens of numbers sung with a little dancing to add to the delight.
Performing these songs with each showcasing their vocal prowess in both solos and group numbers are audience favorites from the Toby’s family including Heather Beck, MaryKate Brouillet, Crystal Freeman, David James, DeCarlo Raspberry, Jeffrey Shankle, Janine Sunday Russell Sunday, Taylor Washington and AJ Whittenberger.
David Hopkins’ designed set is festive with all sorts of clever Christmas decorations and props including Santa’s sleigh. A façade creatively covered by wrapped Christmas presents is a standout. The lighting, also designed by Mr. Hopkins, is imaginative and colorful adding mightily to the holiday atmosphere.
Costume Designer Janine Sunday fitted the ensemble cast with a wide array of costumes from chipmunks and elves, to Santas and novelty suits, 19th century attire for some of the classics to formal gowns for the ladies and suits for the gentlemen. #hocoarts
Nathan Scavilla was at the keyboard and conducted the three-piece orchestra the night I attended this performance and did a sterling job especially given the rapid pace of the numbers.
The protocols that Toby’s implemented does not detract from the superb performances in any fashion. The holiday cheer and pure entertainment from Home for the Holidays provide a soothing respite from a tense and horrible year. Composer and lyricist Jerry Herman was prescient when he wrote, “We need a little Christmas…right this very minute!”
Seating is limited, so hurry to buy tickets as this show is perfect fun for the whole family.
Running time: One hour and 40 minutes with an intermission.
Home for the Holidays will play through January 3, 2021 at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311 or by visiting ticketmaster.com. The next show, Godspell, will open January 8.
Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography