‘Rocky the Musical’ packs a punch at Toby’s
Earlier this year, Toby Orenstein, owner of Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, was walking to the corner bakery when she happened to notice a new gym, Title Boxing Club. The gym reminded her of Rocky, the famous 1976 boxing film and subsequent 2014 musical, which coincidentally had just been licensed globally.
Excitedly, Orenstein called her colleague, executive producer Mark Minnick. “It’s a sign,” she said. “Rocky is available!”
Orenstein had wanted to bring Rocky to her theater since 2014, when it premiered on Broadway and starred two actors who had performed at Toby’s in their early careers.
The beloved 1976 film written by Sylvester Stallone was adapted as a musical in 2012, premiering in Germany, followed by a brief run on Broadway in 2014.
The movie, made for just $1 million, was the highest grossing film in its year of release and eventually grossed $225 million globally. It also garnered 10 Oscar nominations, with three wins, including best picture. Eight movie sequels followed.
This is the first time Rocky the Musical has been produced in our area. The current production at Toby’s Dinner Theatre is directed by Orenstein and Minnick. The script is by Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens.
The fight choreography and training was provided by Title Boxing Club of Columbia. Although there are two scenes featuring boxing, the musical touches on universal themes of class, hope and love.
“It really isn’t a story about boxing,” Minnick said. “It’s an underdog love story about people needing people. So, if people are hesitant to come, thinking all they will see is boxing, they are really mistaken.”
Viewers get front-row feeling
The theatre is in-the-round, so there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.
For the two fight scenes, a boxing ring is carried onto the stage, transforming the scene in the blink of an eye. The ring is very effective, giving the audience the feeling of watching actual combatants in a ring fighting for the world championship.
It’s not easy to pull off a production of this magnitude — and to make it something audiences want to see. But the result is a first-class show performed by longtime actors with the backing of a strong leadership team.
Rocky Balboa is played by Howard County native Patrick Gover, in his first appearance at Toby’s. Gover’s role requires choreographed boxing scenes in which he runs around the stage (literally) and does push-ups.
Gover is as adept physically as he is linguistically. He’s quite good at yelling out Stallone’s signature line, “Yo Adrian!” with a south Philly accent, which he’s able to maintain throughout the play.
Rocky’s girlfriend, Adrian Pennino, is played by Orlando native Lydia Gifford, also making her Toby’s debut. Gifford possesses an easy-to-listen-to singing voice and is effective at showing the progression of her character from shy and introverted to outgoing and emotive.
There are 22 actors in the cast, and not one is miscast. The show includes many Toby’s regulars. You may recognize David Bosley-Reynolds, Jeff Shankle, David James, Janine Sunday and Bob Biederman — all seasoned professionals with excellent singing voices.
Early in Act One, the song “Holiday,” by the characters Gloria (Janine Sunday), Angie (Kalen Robinson) and Joanne (MaryKate Brouillet), sets the upbeat tone of the musical.
One of the most recognizable of the show’s 20-plus songs is “Eye of the Tiger,” a hit by Survivor that was part of the 1982 film “Rocky III.” It’s used in this show in Act Two as part of the exciting training montage performed by the full company.
Another uplifting song of note ended the first act — “One of Us,” again by the company.
Toby’s has been a treasured part of the entertainment scene in Howard County for many decades. At one time there were about six or seven dinner theaters in the Baltimore area.
Toby’s remains the only local dinner theater with live music. We’re lucky to have such high-quality live theater in our area.
The theater has made many accommodations to continue performances despite the pandemic. Audience size is limited to 75% of capacity, and the staff does its best to leave room between tables. Before the pandemic, capacity was about 325 people.
Several COVID-related restrictions remain in place. Masks are optional, but you do need proof of vaccination. Gloves are required at the buffet, of course, because everyone touches the same utensils. For this show, the salad bar has returned, but not the ice cream bar.
The ample buffet includes baked ham, turkey, roast beef, tilapia, and steamed veggies like Brussels sprouts and broccoli. For this show, chef Chuck Cofield added Mickey’s cheesy macaroni, Paulie’s scalloped potatoes, and Philly cheese steak casserole.
Remember, at a dinner theater, it’s all you can eat. From what I observed, many people take advantage of this perk. The buffet opens at 6 p.m., and the show starts at 8 p.m. On Sundays, doors open at 5 p.m., and for the Wednesday and Sunday matinees, the buffet opens at 10:30 a.m.
“Rocky the Musical” runs through June 5. Tickets are $68-$72 for adults and $52.50 for children 12 and under. Patrons 65 and over can attend Tuesday and Wednesday performances for $57.80. For questions or reservations, call the box office at (410) 730-8311.