Phantom Tollbooth: Topsy-Turvy Family Entertainment

The Phantom Tollbooth, based on the book by Norman Juster, book by Norman Juster and Sheldon Harnick, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, music by Arnold Black, Wheelock Family Theatre, 10/21/11-11/20/11, http://www.wheelockfamilytheatre.org/feature-performance.aspx.

Reviewed by Gillian Daniels

(Boston, MA) A musical adaptation of Norton Juster’s 1961 children’s book of the same name is currently being performed at the Wheelock Family Theater.  With an inventive, bright cast and set, the play is sure to fascinate younger viewers. 

The story centers on Milo (Jeffrey Sewell) and his dream-like adventures in the Kingdom of Wisdom.  Accompanying him is Michael Wood as his canine companion, Tock, a strong and stable presence in a show with few authority figures on which Milo can capably rely.  Demons of ignorance (various creatures played by, but not limited to, Aimee K. Doherty and Jenna Lea Scott) threaten our hero with obstacles like indifference and laziness.  The story has moments of darkness but nothing too challenging for young children, especially those experiencing theater for the first time.

Jeffrey Sewell as Milo and Andrew Oberstein as the Whetherman. Photo by Wheelock Family Theatre.

The show doesn’t just preach the importance of learning but how one uses that knowledge.  The Kingdom of Wisdom’s most pressing conflict is its banishment of the princesses of Rhyme and Reason (Kami Rushell Smith and Courtney Sullivan, respectively).  Without them, the Kingdom of Wisdom, despite its rulers dedication to mathematics and composition (De’Lon Grant as King Azaz and Brian Richard Robinson as the Mathemagician), doesn’t make much sense.  It’s a valuable lesson with a great deal more importance than many other children’s morality tales.

This nonsense world brings to mind the strange settings of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.  It will delight kids who respond well to topsy-turvy logic.  Those who don’t may find some annoyance in the otherwise delightful Dr. Dischord (Wayne Fritsche) and his caravan of loud sounds or the opinion-based identity of the Midget-Giant (Robert Saoud) and his attempts to confuse our heroes.

For the most part, the Phantom Tollbooth should be an excellent afternoon’s entertainment.  Adults familiar with the book, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, should be satisfied with the adaptation of its unique material.

 

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