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Review: A CHORUS LINE at Toby's Sings And Dances Its Way Into Your Heart

The award-winning '70s musical is presented with a fresh take in Columbia, Maryland, through March 10, 2024.

By: Feb. 04, 2024
Review: A CHORUS LINE at Toby's Sings And Dances Its Way Into Your Heart  Image
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You don’t need to go “up a steep and very narrow stairway” to enjoy A CHORUS LINE at Toby’s in Columbia through March 10th, 2024- the entrance is accessible, as is nearly everything about the venue. Staff are warm and helpful, the atmosphere is welcoming and the production is wonderful.

This year, Toby’s celebrates its 40th Anniversary in Columbia, a testament to the community’s support of live theater and the high-quality productions presented onstage year after year. And Toby’s extensive buffet is top notch. See information about the menu online, for both dinner and brunch. 

Toby’s has returned their tables to their pre-Covid proximity, so there’s not a lot of elbow room, but theater patrons seem to give one another more space than in the Before Times. Because the audience is all around the stage, there are moments in the show that are hard to see for one segment of the audience or another, but these moments are distributed fairly throughout and every seat has a good view of nearly all the action. 

A Chorus Line doesn’t have much of a plot. It’s a concept piece, and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything with the revelation that the concept is that the audience gets to be a fly on the wall for a dance audition. A concept piece, like satire, needs from the audience some implicit understanding of the concept or genre, or it risks missing its mark. I was a theater kid but never a dancer, so when I first saw A Chorus Line, there was much that didn’t resonate with me. This time, since I’d (in the decades-long meanwhile) experienced being a Dance Mom, I understand more of the embedded dance culture that I hadn’t understood my first time seeing it. With ‘dance audition’ as the premise, the show features near-constant dancing, a great deal of singing, a couple of terrific monologues, no character development, few relationships and not much set. That said, what it does, it does really, really well. 

Originally Conceived, Directed and Choreographed for the stage by Michael Bennett, writing credits go to James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante for the book, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban. Collectively, this group won the 1976 Pulitzer prize for Drama. Hamlisch had at that time already earned two Academy Awards for his music in 1973’s The Sting. This is to say that the songs are terrific and have withstood more than four decades in which they might have become hackneyed or irrelevant, but didn’t. 

Director Mark Minnick presents the show as one continuous scene, with no lights-out moments save for intermission. He makes a backdrop of the bare stage to focus on the individuality of the characters. In a show that’s literally about not standing out, he ensures that characters are highlighted and memorable. His use of movement, posture, attitude and stillness creates such fascinating visuals that furniture is superfluous. As a longtime choreographer himself, he facilitates seamless integration between blocking and Vincent Musgrave’s dazzling choreography. 

Music Director Ross Scott Rawlings, a 30-year veteran at Toby’s, produces a big sound from the small band he conducts, and leads the cast in some delightful harmonies. “What I Did For Love” and “At The Ballet” are enjoyable listens. “I Can Do That” is the sassy comic piece it is designed to be, and “Sing” is perfectly timed. Tony Neenan on trumpet, and woodwinds by Steve Haaser and Denis Malloy, add a lot to the soundscape.

With at least three (and possibly more) performers making their Toby’s debut, the cast is less “familiar favorites” and more “fresh faces.”  I’m pleased to see some frequent Ensemble performers have a bit more of a featured role in this show. As Bobby in “And,” David Singleton does some slow-motion pantomime storytelling which is a lot of fun to watch. Julia Williams playing Judy is the epitome of awkward and gangly when speaking, and a graceful swan when dancing. Ariel Messeca has regal bearing and line delivery as Greg, Jessica Barraclough’s timing and sarcasm are spot-on for Sheila, and I’m always pleased by Quadry Brown’s dancing, no exception tonight. Leela Dawson, playing Diana, is fiery and relatable, particularly in her feature number “Nothing.” Triple-threat Lydia Gifford plays Cassie with heart and passion, really shining in her solo dance. Ryan Sellers as Al and Amanda Kaplan-Landstrom as Kristine are extraordinarily cute in “Sing” and do a lot of tiny non-verbal ‘business’ to sell the relationship for the whole of the show. Brian Dauglash as Paul holds the audience to rapt, silent attention during his monologue. As Val, Alexis Krey-Bedore is sassy and furious “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” a number which is significantly less shocking nowadays than when it debuted. Playing Larry, Andrew Gordon has little to say, but his elegant grace in motion is fascinating. 

Choreographer Vincent Musgrave makes a triumphant Creative debut at Toby’s with A Chorus Line, a show that by nature presents a few challenges to presentation in the round. His choreography is lively, challenging and varied. I particularly like the ensemble work in “At The Ballet.”  The spectacular finale, “One,” is everything one hopes for in an ensemble number.

There’s not much set during most of the production, but Scenic Designer David A. Hopkins brings in some special pieces for “The Music And The Mirror,” adding extra visual interest and depth to an extended solo feature. Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin creates mood and adds drama. With no furniture, no scenery and no “location,” her layers of lighting set the tone for each number, then change or dramatize moments within the numbers. The sound quality is perfect. Everyone is clearly audible and the balance between band and vocals is ideal. Sound Designer Mark Smedley delivers some of the cleanest audio I’ve heard in a musical.  

If you’re a fan of musical theater, A CHORUS LINE will resonate. It’s a visual and auditory delight, with complex dance numbers and Marvin Hamlisch’s memorable melodies, performed by two dozen of some of the most talented performers in Maryland. Toby’s once again delivers a very high quality production with this iconic spectacle of a show.

Running time is two and a half hours, with a fifteen minute intermission.

A Chorus Line runs at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044  through March 10, 2024. Tues- Sat house opens at 6PM, Buffet from 6-7:20, Show at 8 PM; Sunday Brunch 10:30 for doors & buffet; showtime 12:30; Sunday evening, doors & buffett at 5:00 PM, Showtime at 7 PM

$79-86.00 adults; $60-$63 children

Toby’s Box Office is open Monday- Saturday from 10:00am- 8:00pm and Sunday from 10:00am – 7:00pm. Guests are advised to call the box office at 410-730-8311 to purchase tickets. Toby’s has no online ticket purchase option, though you can purchase tickets through Ticketmaster at the button below if you’re unable to do it over the phone. 

Photo: Julia Williams as Judy Turner, and the cast of A CHORUS LINE

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Free parking is available all around the building, and there’s a place to pull up to let out passengers with mobility challenges. 

Next up at Toby’s is BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, March 15- June 16, 2024.


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