Shake off that midsummer blues and hustle down to Vienna Baptist Church to see NOVA Nightsky’s “Holy Toledo!” written by Paul Langford and directed by Ward Kay. This rollicking historical adventure is sure to please audiences of all ages. There are silly gags for the kids and fascinating tidbits for the history buffs in the room. Who in the world knows about the war over Michigan’s statehood? “Holy Toledo!” shines a light on the brief period of time between The War of 1812 and The Civil War, a period often left out of your average American history class. The play follows Mason, a teenage boy from Michigan, who is determined to honor the memory of his recently deceased father in any way he can. Opportunity presents itself in the forms of a state versus state skirmish, with Mason placed squarely in the middle of a budding war. Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of The United States and a key figure in this play, is mounting his re-election bid. He is determined to secure votes from key states and uses his political power to pit Ohio and Michigan against each other. Buckle up for a night of witty dialogue and fabulous costumes, as well as a solid cast of gifted comedians.
Buckle up for a night of witty dialogue and fabulous costumes, as well as a solid cast of gifted comedians…a rip-roaring good time…ray of sunshine…
NOVA Nightsky Theater had originally planned to present “Holy Toledo!” outdoors and the scenery surely would have proved superb. Unfortunately, mother nature decided to act up this week and the cast and crew had to do some quick thinking to reimagine the show in an indoor setting. Vienna Baptist Church has a large meeting space in an adjacent building and the production team did an excellent job shifting the location. The church boasts a large stage, utilized to its fullest potential by director Ward Kay. There is an awful lot of stacking in the blocking Kay had to do as the cast consists of a staggering 17 actors. Each part is well fleshed out, however, and each actor has a lot to do. NOVA Nightsky Theater has already shown they can stage a gripping drama, now we know they can pull off a sprawling comedy as well.
Some of the best elements in “Holy Toledo!” can be found in the tech and creative team. Each costume is thoughtfully chosen, relying more on signifying statements pieces rather than a historically accurate head to toe ensemble. The fake mustache is as essential as the Daniel Boone cap, and we immediately know who each character is and what they are about. This serves the plot well, and the collaborative costume design meant actors were pulling many pieces from their own closets. With a large cast like this, it is essential every actor is comfortable in their wardrobe, and sourcing costumes from the actors was a good choice. One of the most striking technical moments came in the form of the Ohio and Michigan state flags. Each piece was lovingly handcrafted by the production team and Elizabeth Earles is to be congratulated for her ingenious design. A big shout out must go to the entire banner team, including Whitney Perez, Denise Sudell, Larissa Norris, Rebecca Kallant, and Adam Ressa. The flags look like they were plucked straight from the 19th century.
There are an inordinate amount of historical euphemisms, fourth wall breaking, and tonal shifts in this script and a less cohesive cast may have had a hard time pulling it off. The team at NOVA Nightsky Theater did an excellent job of deftly balancing the cast to create earnest and infectious energy. Lexi Scanlan as the wide-eyed and innocent Mason is a gem and holds the story together with her fully realized character development. Always at her shoulder and ready to support (or discourage her) when necessarily is Mason’s girlfriend, Ann, played by the indomitable Emily Steindl. They are two peas in a pod and their joyous relationship was the heart and soul of “Holy Toledo!” Frank Gorrel’s Andrew Jackson is at stark contrast with Mason and Ann’s ooey-gooey love story, and we can’t help but adore how duplicitous he can be. These three actors create a solid triangle throughout in which the rest of the cast expertly bobs and weaves and makes for a rip-roaring good time. “Holy Toledo!” Is the ray of sunshine that this summer so desperately needs.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
“Holy Toledo!” runs through July 1, 2023 at Vienna Baptist Church, 541 Marshall Rd, SW Vienna VA, 22180. For more information and tickets, visit online.