Review: ROCKY at Toby's Thinks Outside The Boxing

Local Underdog Finds Love, Faces Superstar.

By: Apr. 14, 2022
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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

Reasons to NOT see ROCKY THE MUSICAL

  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 www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.

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



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