Toby’s Dinner Theater a local treat for DMV residents;‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ musical keeps Fats Waller’s Harlem-Stride tradition alive
By Timothy Cox
Editor ‘n Chief
October 18, 2018
COLUMBIA, MD — Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was just 39 when he died in 1943.
From Sept. 14 thru Nov 4, Toby’s Dinner Theater in Columbia, Md. has featured a musical
production dedicated to the music of Mr. Waller’s many compositions. ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’
originally showed on the “Great White Way” of Broadway in 1978 – and featured actress
Nell Carter, of TV’s ‘Gimme A Break’ fame.
The cast of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ received nothing but rave reviews and standing ovations during their recent run at Toby’s Musical Theater in Columbia, Maryland. (Photo by Jeri Tidwell)
The local revival has generated several sell-out performances at the local venue which is
located about halfway between downtown Baltimore and greater Washington, DC. During
a recent Sunday morning matinee, senior-citizen groups from throughout Virginia and
Maryland showed up on leased buses to enjoy the performance.
Toby’s Dinner Theater is celebrating its 40 th season and offers award-winning Broadway
and original musicals. Prior to all performances, an exceptional buffet-style dinner,
delectable desserts and extensive salad bar are presented to audience members. Mrs. Toby
Orenstein is owner and Artistic Director of Toby’s Dinner Theater. The Bronx, N.Y. native
attended New York’s legendary High School of Performing Arts. She’s also a graduate of
Columbia University. The benefit of seeing a play at Toby’s avoids the traffic congestion
and parking woes of downtown Baltimore and DC. The venue has a self-contained parking
lot large enough to contain several 55-passenger buses.
The current production is nearly 100-percent music-based, with only a small piece of
(spoken) dialogue – making it somewhat difficult to follow the evolving story line. Still,
based on Waller’s extensive song book, the production manages to stay afloat with a
multi-talented five-person cast. Interestingly, the cast also double as servers, waiters and
waitresses prior to and, during the performance. Their dual roles contribute to their overall
revenue, according to cast members — therefore, healthy tips are encouraged!
The two-act performance featured cast members Kelli Blackwell of Baltimore, Bryan Jeffery
of Philadelphia, Kanysha Williams, Kadejah One’ and Tobias Young. The quintet should be
credited for fun-filled, energetic, authentic portrayals of early 20 th Century musicians,
typically from New York City’s Harlem Renaissance era. DC-native Young, is especially
fingered for starring as the heavy-set, jovial big man Waller.
Speaking of music, Waller is credited as a stride-piano innovator and one of the first black
artists to have his compositions formally published and recorded via major recording
corporations like RCA-Victor. The local venue features “live” pit musicians, though they’re
located in a balcony section of the theater. With impeccable attention the musicians
accompanied the five vocalists during classic Waller compositions such as “Honeysuckle
Rose,” “T’aint Nobody’s Bizness,” “Squeeze Me,” “Viper’s Drag,” “Mean to Me,” “Fat and
Greasy,” “Black and Blue,” “The Joint is Jumpin” and the title tune, “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
Director, Monique Midgette, said the show is a “loving tribute to Fats Waller’s
incomparable jazz music … a musical journey of love, heartbreak, resilience and joy.”
Shalyce Hemby is choreographer and Ross Cott Rawlings is music director. In September
2019, the Bodyguard featuring Whitney Houston’s music is scheduled.
For more information about upcoming productions, call Toby’s Dinner Theater at 410-730-
8311 or www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.