'Nostalgia' encore hot as ever Memories: Toby's Dinner Theatre hits the musical high points of the 1930s through 1970s with a strong ensemble performance.

June 25, 1998|By Dawn Fallik | Dawn Fallik,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Wear your saddle shoes and do up the 'do before heading over to "Hot Nostalgia II," the latest offering at Toby's Dinner Theatre.

The musical revue offers more than 50 songs in a little more than 90 minutes, covering five decades of music, fashion and dance. The eight-member cast doesn't miss a beat throughout the show, and audience members probably will find their toes tapping to the tunes.

Toby's produced the original "Hot Nostalgia" in 1996, and several of the cast members have returned to please audiences in the VTC second version.

There's no plot to this show, and while the costume changes and character antics are amusing, children not familiar with the songs from the 1930s through the 1970s might tune out. But for those who remember poodle skirts, love beads and Beatlemania, "Hot Nostalgia" is a good romp through the years.

It's hard to cover up flaws with an eight-member cast, but the group blends well on the ensemble pieces, and all can hold their own for the solos. A. K. Brink, who was in Toby's production of "It's a Wonderful Life," stood out among the women, with a clear, strong voice that did well on ballads such as "Where the Boys Are," as well as Motown tunes like "Heat Wave."

The male cast members shined a little brighter than their female compatriots, with Larry Munsey showing off his Elvis swivel, Mick Jagger strut and John Travolta disco moves. David James, who won the 1998 Helen Hayes Award for outstanding supporting performer as the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz" at Toby's, was a terrific comic foil in this latest effort as well.

Jon Bell had the best voice of the bunch, successfully delivering a variety of tunes from "Chantilly Lace" to "War (what is it good for?)." There were a few songs in which the voice did not quite match the style of the piece, but those snippets stood out only because the others were so good.

As with most Toby's productions, the best pieces are those in which the cast works together as an ensemble. "The Age of Aquarius" and the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" sections were particularly good, and Gary Best's harmony with Bell on "Sounds of Silence" was the standout of the evening.

The show moves along quickly from one song to another with few awkward pauses. Somehow the comic "Hello Mother, Hello Father" moved into the teary ballad "Rainy Days and Mondays" with no hesitation. Some of the songs are paired well -- "I Am Woman" turned into "Macho Man" and then swung through "You're So Vain," without missing a beat.

Although the entire show keeps the audience entertained, the segment on the 1950s -- which comes with poodle skirts and leather jackets -- is the best. The cast members seemed to enjoy the songs, and there's a little more choreography in this segment than in the free-flowing 1960s portion.

The house was less than packed on a Saturday night, possibly because the Shirelles were performing live a few blocks away. For those who need another trip down memory lane, "Hot Nostalgia II" is a good choice and a swell ride all the way.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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