It's Toby's times two: Theater to open in Canton




It's been a staple in Columbia for more than a quarter century, and now Toby's Dinner Theatre is opening a second location, in Baltimore.

On March 10, the curtain will rise on Toby's Baltimore at the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center on O'Donnell Street. The debut production will be Beauty and the Beast, which ran for five months at Toby's in Columbia.

The theater's owner, Toby Orenstein, said she was initially uninterested when the hotel's general manager approached her about opening a theater at the Travel Plaza site, which has been home to at least two dinner theaters. "It went through an evolution of names and artistic directors and owners, as did the hotel," said Orenstein, adding that she staged a New Year's Eve revue there herself about 10 years ago.

What changed her mind was the opportunity to create a state-of-the-art facility in a location - Canton - that has become increasingly popular and to provide more opportunities for area actors. "We drove around Canton and Fells Point, and I was amazed at what's occurred there in the past 10 years," Orenstein said.

"At [the Columbia] theater, when we look at the demographics of our customers, they're pretty much within an hour's drive, and another appeal of Canton is that it is pretty much an untapped region as far as I can tell."

Unlike the Columbia venue, which is in-the-round, the 300-seat Toby's Baltimore will have a 30-by-40-foot semi-thrust stage with a built-in turntable.

"My plan first is to see who my audience is, so this season will be filled with variety," she said. The lineup: Beauty and the Beast (March 10-May 28), Footloose (June 2-Aug. 20), Ragtime (Aug. 25-Nov. 5), It's a Wonderful Life, the Musical (Nov. 10-Jan. 21, 2007) and The Full Monty (Jan. 25-March 2007).

Toby's also has an educational, nonprofit arm called the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, which tours schools and offers classes and a summer camp. Orenstein said one of her long-term dreams for Baltimore would be "to use that facility to bring kids in to see children's theater and maybe to have a camp there as well."

On March 5, Toby's Baltimore will open its doors for the first time with a fundraiser for the Center for Theatrical Arts. Guest of honor will be Dr. Ben Carson, whose life story is the subject of a play the center has toured for eight years. Former Toby's students and performers, including Harolyn Blackwell, Edward Norton and Tracie Thoms, are expected to attend. Call 410-381-0700.

Ticket prices for shows at Toby's Baltimore, 5625 O'Donnell St., will be the same as in Columbia, $27.50-$46, including the meal. For more information about the new theater, visit tobysdinner

Serving youth

Young theatergoers have two new, affordable ways to get into Center Stage. "Kickin' It With the 'rents" will allow parents and children to attend a play, dinner and pre-show activities for the price of a movie ticket - $8 per person.

The series is aimed at Baltimore City high school students and their parents, and the theater hopes to attract 30 to 40 families for each of five designated performances (Once on This Island, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 1; The Murder of Isaac, 8 p.m. Feb. 28; Radio Golf, 8 p.m. April 12; Crumbs From the Table of Joy, 7:30 p.m. May 21 and 8 p.m. May 25).

The evenings will begin two hours before the performance with a family-style meal and activities that include guest speakers and theater artists examining issues raised in the play. The series is funded, in part, by a $20,000 grant from the city's Creative Baltimore Fund: Helping Support Baltimore's Cultural Community and is sponsored by M&T Bank.

In a separate effort to attract young patrons, Center Stage is introducing "Pay-Your-Age Previews," starting with the production of Once on This Island. Theatergoers 35 and under can purchase best-available tickets at the box office on the day of the preview performance at a cost of $1 for each year of their age (preview dates for Once on This Island are Dec. 16-20; ID is required). The theater intends to continue this practice for previews throughout the season. For information on both programs, call 410-332-0033.

Capote's `Christmas'

If you've seen the movie Capote and want to sample something Truman Capote wrote that's quite different from In Cold Blood, Theatre Hopkins is offering a reading of his autobiographical short story A Christmas Memory at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Performed by Anne Helms Irons and Kevin Daly, the reading will be held at St. John's Episcopal Church, Huntingdon, 3009 Greenmount Ave. The theater will accept donations to benefit the church and the Barclay School. For more information, call 410-516-7159.

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