Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: ROCKY at Toby's Thinks Outside The Boxing

Local Underdog Finds Love, Faces Superstar.

Review: ROCKY at Toby's Thinks Outside The Boxing

ROCKY THE MUSICAL Is A Knockout At Toby's In Columbia

So you're not convinced that just every old thing needs to be made into a musical. Agreed. So you think Rocky doesn't seem like the best source material for a musical. Agreed. You're uncomfortable with the optics of a Black dude being the main antagonist. Agreed. So you think it'll be hokey and kinda stupid, and that's where you'd be wrong.

ROCKY THE MUSICAL at Toby's Dinner Theater in Columbia doesn't have a pre-established fan base, the way, for example, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN or SPAMALOT! do. It needs to work to draw a crowd. But in the words of co-director Mark Minnick, "When has Toby's ever let you down?" And that is a fair question. Here's a breakdown of reasons both for and against seeing ROCKY THE MUSICAL at Toby's while you're waiting for the debut of SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS and the encore of SPAMALOT! They're coming.

Reasons in favor of seeing ROCKY THE MUSICAL:

  1. You haven't seen it before
  2. The pre-show playlist is excellent
  3. There are five wonderful actors making first appearances at Toby's
  4. Two of them are lead characters
  5. The music is interesting, unconventional and well performed
  6. Crystal Freeman is in it
  7. Honey vinaigrette brussels sprouts are on the buffet
  8. The salad bar is back


  1. You're not a risk-taker, even for low stakes
  2. Crystal Freeman doesn't have a solo
  3. You hate that brussels sprouts are on the menu
  4. The ice cream bar is still absent

There you have it. Eight reasons in favor and only four opposed. Your choice seems obvious.

Look, I didn't expect to like this show, despite Robert John Beiderman discovering a woman in the audience who was there for her THIRD visit. And yet. The stage musical retains enough of the movie to feel familiar, yet refocuses major themes to create fresh interest. The 1976 movie was nominated for many Academy Awards, but I prefer the legend surrounding the movie. You don't know it? Briefly, Stallone, a little-known struggling actor, wrote the screenplay, then steadfastly pounded the streets of Hollywood until he found a producer who would cast him in the lead. A piece of the legend I recently learned is that Stallone's inspiration was the Ali vs. Wepner match in 1974, in which a New Jersey liquor salesman went 15 rounds against The Greatest, or, according to Muhammed Ali himself, "the double greatest."

Stephen Flahrty and Lynn Ahrens, the duo responsible for ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, SEUSSICAL, MY FAVORITE YEAR and ANASTASIA create 18 original songs that do what musical numbers are supposed to do, reveal character and/or move the plot. Bill Conti's iconic song from the first Rocky film, "Gonna Fly Now," makes the cut for the stage production, and Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" from Rocky III as well. The music is executed with finesse by the terrific house band directed by Ross Scott Rawlings. Trumpet being crucial to the overall Rocky sound, Tony Neenan on horns earns a well-deserved nod.

For the book, in addition to dialogue originally written by Stallone, Thomas Meehan ( The Producers, ANNIE, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Spaceballs) weaves some welcome comedy into the script. Directors Toby Orenstein and Mark Minneck highlight the humor throughout the show, with the cooperation and talent of the fluid and flexible cast.

In the title role is Toby's first-timer Patrick Gover. He brings charm, earnestness and a tender lovability to the role. I like his version of Rocky better than Stallone's. His delivery is expressive, his stage presence magnetic and his vocals emotive and character-driven.

Lydia Gifford, also making her Toby's premier, is a perfectly mousy Adrian who admirably holds her end of the stage when sharing it with powerhouse performer Janine Sunday in the role of the extremely sassy Gloria. In Gifford's first solo "Raining," however, she reveals a strong and nuanced voice suitable for wistful longing, and, later, in "I'm Done," righteous fury.

Gifford and Gover as Adrien and Rocky have excellent awkward chemistry, which carries the weight of the plotline. At its core, ROCKY is not about boxing any more than The Bad News Bears was about baseball. ROCKY is a show about relationships, framed by the premise of boxing. Gover and Giffords' duet "Happiness" is a particular highlight of sweetness and discovery.

Gerald Jordan as Apollo Creed is smooth like butter, buffeted by his management team, adorned with luscious Vegas-esque "Apollo's Girls" and wrapped in glamorous coats. The "Patriotic" number is a delight and goes a long way toward making Creed not an antagonist but an attractive sub-plot.

Speaking of those glamorous coats, costumer Janine Sunday has assembled a wonderful display of sumptuous seventies styles. Lynn Joslin's moody lighting design is well conceived and, in the final sequence, brilliant. It does include fog, smog and strobe, so do be aware if you have sensitivities. Fight choreographer Justin Calhoun presents expressive, entertaining boxing moves that communicate action without making the audience worry for anyone's safety. The training montages are a visual treat, and the cast does credit to specialized coaching from Columbia's own local TITLE Boxing Club.

Did Sylvester Stallone think ROCKY THE MUSICAL was a good idea? Hard to tell. He was paid for writing the film, paid for acting in it (and its many sequels) and paid to record an endorsement for the Broadway premier in 2014. If Stallone thought that Rocky shouldn't be made into a musical, he couldn't have stopped it. He doesn't own any of it. Well, that's Hollywood. The musical premiered in Hamburg, Germany in 2012, and ran six months on Broadway in 2014.

The cast of ROCKY embodies a certain exuberance, a fighting spirit that's particularly topical. The number "Southside Celebrity" is a noteworthy example of this, but the whole show is about showing up, doing the right thing, taking care of each other and finding victory even in defeat. That's pretty relevant, now and always.

ROCKY THE MUSICAL plays at Toby's through June 5th. It's followed by SPONGEBOB THE MUSICAL, with songs from a number of musical giants, including They Might Be Giants, Lady Antebellum, Panic! At The Disco, John Legend and Sara Bareilles. After SPONGEBOB, SPAMALOT! returns for an encore by popular demand.

Toby's still requires masks, ID and proof of vaccination or exemption, which you present as you arrive. Toby's Dinner Theatre is in Columbia, Maryland, easily accessed from 29 Southbound, with plenty of free parking all around the building.

Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia

5900 Symphony Woods Road

Columbia, MD 21044

For additional information including pricing, buffet menu and directions, visit

For tickets, phone the box office at 410-730-8311, 301-596-6161 or 1-800-88-TOBYS 10 am - 9 pm. Doors open at 6pm Tuesday through Saturday evenings, with dinner from 6:30-7:20 for an 8 pm showtime. Wednesday and Sunday Matinees, the buffet is 10:30-11:50 am for a 12:30 pm show. Sunday evening supper is at 5:30 pm, with a 7 pm showtime. The show runs about one and a half hours, including a 20 minute intermission.

Photo: Lydia Gifford and Patrick Gover as Adrian and Rocky;

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography

LADY DAY AT EMERSONS BAR AND GRILL and More Set For Baltimore Center Stage 2023/2024 Mains Photo
Baltimore Center Stage has announced the complete 2023/24 Season, the final season programmed by Stephanie Ybarra in her tenure as Artistic Director. Memberships for the 23/24 Season go on sale on May 18, 2023, and single ticket sales will go on sale in the summer. Learn more about the full lineup here!

Two World Premieres & More Set for Round House Theatre 2023-2024 Season Photo
Round House Theatre has announced a six-show lineup for its 46th Season. See the full programming, and learn how to purchase tickets!

Bach In Baltimore Performs Choral Masterwork: J.S. BACHS ST. JOHN PASSION This Sunday Photo
On Sunday, April 2 (Passion Sunday) at 4 PM, Bach in Baltimore performs Bach St. John Passion at Church of the Resurrection, located at 11525 Greenspring Avenue, Lutherville-Timonium.

Cumberland Theatre Stars Of Tomorrow to Present THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL in April Photo
The Cumberland Theatre Stars of Tomorrow will present The SpongeBob Musical at the theatre April 13th - 16th.

From This Author - Cybele Pomeroy

Review: Brava, Bravo! Fall In Love With HUBBA HUBBA at Theatre ProjectReview: Brava, Bravo! Fall In Love With HUBBA HUBBA at Theatre Project
March 25, 2023

Brava, Bravo! For HUBBA HUBBA At Theatre Project: Don't miss the World Premiere! This new show by Alex & Olmsted, internationally acclaimed winners of multiple Jim Henson Award grants, is a pastiche of comedic scenes starring humans, puppets and an invisible fruit fly. Each carries a unique message spotlighting different facets of romantic love.

CRISIS MODE: LIVING PILIPINO IN AMERICA At Strand In Baltimore Resonates With Immigrants, Illuminates EveryoneCRISIS MODE: LIVING PILIPINO IN AMERICA At Strand In Baltimore Resonates With Immigrants, Illuminates Everyone
March 21, 2023

CRISIS MODE: LIVING PILIPINO IN AMERICA is a revelation as well as a personal and cultural history. Speaking for, and to, people 'other-ed' for cultural reasons, or with dualism of identities, it also resonates with anyone who has basic compassion. Heartbreaking, interactive and funny, the performance immerses one in memoir as it's being written.

Review: Join A Raucous Romp Through THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company In Downtown BaltimoreReview: Join A Raucous Romp Through THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company In Downtown Baltimore
February 20, 2023

Race downtown to join a raucous romp through THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, where the comedy is comic, the tragedy is comic, the history is comic and the comics are comic. You'll applaud, laugh, and may even become part of the action in this goofy rendition of the Bard's oeuvre.

Review: SOMETHING ROTTEN! Reeks Of Hilarity At Toby's In ColumbiaReview: SOMETHING ROTTEN! Reeks Of Hilarity At Toby's In Columbia
February 6, 2023

Designed for fans of musicals, SOMETHING ROTTEN! is a Queen's farthingdale full of fun. It’s lighthearted, full of color and movement, funny, packed with references to amuse Broadway lovers and Shakespeare scholars, with familiar four-second musical riffs scattered through the show. Toby’s Dinner Theater delivers again with SOMETHING ROTTEN!

Review: HIGH SCHOOL COVEN Conjures School Memories, Both Sweet And Bitter, Forges Links To Past And FutureReview: HIGH SCHOOL COVEN Conjures School Memories, Both Sweet And Bitter, Forges Links To Past And Future
February 2, 2023

New work advocate and feminist writer Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin pens realistic portrayal of high school life, complete with timeless element of sexual assault. Sexual and gender-based violence survivorship activist Lee Conderacci directs a 6-member cast enacting trials and traumas of teen witch wannabes, at womxn-focused Strand Theater in Baltimore.