Godspell revival at Toby’s now a tradition
The musical Godspell opened off Broadway half a century ago, in May 1971. It became a motion picture in 1973, and there were a few revivals along the way, including Broadway.
Godspell also happened to be the first musical ever performed at Toby’s Dinner Theatre when it opened in Columbia in 1979.
Later, Toby’s revived the show for its 25th anniversary. This year, to celebrate the theater’s 40th anniversary (delayed by a year thanks to the pandemic), Godspell is back.
Godspell began as a project by drama students at Carnegie Mellon University. According to an interview, at that time no one thought it would become such a monumental success.
The 1972 Toronto production of Godspell is credited with launching the careers of Eugene Levy, Gilda Radner and Martin Short. And the musical director was Paul Shaffer from “The David Letterman Show.”
The musical is structured as a series of parables primarily based on the gospel of Matthew. The music was composed by Stephen Schwartz with a book by John-Michael Tebelak. Each of the scenes are interspersed with music set mostly to lyrics from traditional hymns.
Cast adds unique touches
The show has taken its place among the classics of Broadway, according to Toby’s cast member and co-director David James. This excellent production was directed by James and Mark Minnick, both seasoned professionals at Toby’s.
Laced throughout the show are modern social references like “Schitt’s Creek,” “The View” and ads for Farmers Insurance. I was told the cast is given a basic script with the freedom to work in these references. I enjoyed them, and from the laughter I heard, so did the audience.
Other kudos should go to Musical Director Ross Scott Rawlings for the excellent live music. For this show, there are four musicians playing in a booth above the stage.
Speaking of the music, the song you’ll know best is “Day By Day.” It’s the third song in the show and reprised in Act Two. The Fifth Dimension had a hit with the song in 1973, when the film was released.
In the film, which grossed $1.2 million, Victor Garber played Jesus. In this production, Justin Calhoun stars in that role. Just about every member of the cast has performed in previous shows at Toby’s, some of them numerous times.
Every one of the 12 cast members has a strong voice, but the one that stands out is DeCarlo Raspberry, particularly for his moving rendition of “All Good Gifts” in Act 1 and his participation in “On the Willows” in Act 2. In addition, Tony’s alum Tina Desimone has always had a voice you can easily hear in the back row.
As far as comedic timing, David James had most of the funny lines in the show. And the impressions of Donald Trump, among others, as performed by Jeffrey Shankle, were a hoot.
In the original Toby’s production, the cast joined the audience for wine and bread. In one of the revivals, audiences were offered wine on stage. Neither of those happen here, in the age of COVID. For one thing, many of the cast members are your servers, so there really isn’t time before the performance to imbibe.
Same great chef for 25 years
Now let’s talk about the food. What made my meal so special was that after going to Toby’s since the very first show in 1979, I finally met the chef, Chuck Cofield. Not sure why; after all, he’s only been there for 25 years.
But I must say I loved the food. Be sure to get the Linguini Galilee, which was very good. And it got better on my second visit to the buffet. I would bring up a third visit, but let’s not tell the Toby’s folks too much.
Other menu items include corn, cole slaw, steamed broccoli, spinach, pepper steak, baked tilapia, vegetable fried rice, salad, scalloped potatoes and dessert.
Servers bring salad, drinks and dessert to your table. At the buffet line you’ll be asked to put on a glove.
In short, this is a meal and a show you’ll enjoy. Just between us, I have never left Toby’s without enjoying the show. And I’ve been going there since the first Godspell.
Here’s some important news: To enter the theater, everyone must show proof of vaccination or a negative test result within three days. So don’t forget to bring this information along with you.
And now here’s a helpful tip: Take a picture of your vaccination card. Now you’ll always have it with you — assuming you haven’t forgotten your phone.
Godspell runs through Oct. 31. There are eight shows (usually) per week, including matinees on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The theater is located at 5900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, next to Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Ticket prices, which include the dinner meal or matinee brunch (Wed. and Sun.), range from $65 to $68 for adults; $49.50 for children 12 and under.
Patrons 65 and over can attend Tuesday and Wednesday evening or Wednesday brunch for $55.25.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (410) 730-8311 or go to tobysdinnertheatre.com.