Several interesting characters, including The Whether Man, the Countess of Connotation and Spelling Bee, will take to the stage to perform Center Stage Theatre’s “The Phantom Tollbooth.”
A Peanut Gallery production, “The Phantom Tollbooth” will start tonight and run through Sunday at the Midland Center for the Arts.
“The script is many wonderful things: cleverly written, with a lot of wordplay, humor, and serious themes underneath,” said co-director Larry Levy. “It is based on a classic and very popular book, ‘The Phantom Tollbooth,’ by Norton Juster …”
The story tells the tale of a boy named Milo who travels into an adventurous land.
TJ Neuenfeldt, a seventh grade student at Jefferson Middle School, plays Milo.
“He’s an ordinary little boy, bored with himself no matter what he does,” he said.
After getting an interesting package, Milo forgets about his boredom.
“All of a sudden he goes on a magic quest and finds there are lots of things to do in the world,” Neuenfeldt said. “And he gets more mature.”
Meanwhile he meets the sleepy Lethargarians and a character wearing a clock.
Raegan Booth, an eighth grade student at Northeast Middle School, plays the role of Tock.
“Tock is a watchdog,” Booth said. “She is fun to be around. Tock is smart, funny and wise.”
Her costume complements her role.
“I get to have a clock around my belly, because I’m a ‘watchdog,’” she said. “My favorite part of the play probably would be the Word Market scene. All these different shoppers and merchants are trying to sell us these big, fancy words.”
But then there’s the matter of the numbers.
Kyle Kotanchek, also in eighth grade at Northeast, plays the Mathemagician.
“He is one of the two brothers who are disputing whether numbers or words are better,” he said. “To King Azaz, ruler of Dictionopolis, words are one of the most important things in the world … It’s dividing up the Kingdom.”
Kotanchek, impressed by the play, said it will “make the audience think.”
“There’s a deep underlying message, but it’s cheerful and happy at the same time,” he said. “It sends the entire message that you can do anything you want to, and be good at it.”
Ethan Royer of Saginaw, a sixth grade homeschool student, plays two roles.
“I am a Gatekeeper that watches over everyone going into Dictionopolis, and a Page — a servant to the King,” he said.
He gets to introduce Milo, and enjoys the “excitement and fun in that role.”
Royer also described the set. He said it contained a big archway with several platforms, and a few entrances and exits.
Levy explained a little more.
“The set, designed by Evan Lewis, is a brilliant assembly of platforms of different heights, stairways and several archway entrances to and from the stage,” he said. “This helps create the fantasy as Milo motors from his bedroom in the opening scene to the various Lands and Palaces and ultimately back to his bedroom.”
Co-director Cheryl Levy mentioned another creative aspect.
“As he did with ‘Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse,’ James Massey is designing the special computer effects and projections that will turn the set into the Doldrums, the Number’s Mine and other settings of the play,” she said.
Cheryl also pointed out that students AJ Rock, Emma Massey, Kotanchek and Booth would be performing with the Peanut Gallery for the last time as eighth-graders.
“They were fourth-graders when we did ‘Jungle Book’ in 2013; sixth-graders in ‘Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse’ and seventh-graders in ‘Quixote,’” she said. “We also directed Booth in the production of ‘Brundibar.’ We wanted one more chance with these very talented young people before they went on to high school.”
In a blog post on the MCFTA website, the Levys also mentioned a few more people.
“We are very fortunate to be assisted by Jeff Simmons, production manager; Taylor Winslow, stage manager and student acting coach; and many talented members of the MCFTA professional staff and parent volunteers,” they said. “We would not be able to produce the show without such support.”
Remaining cast members are Jacob Alexander, Dixon Anderson, Alexandria Jane Bressette, Meghan Campbell, Sydney Cluff, Molly Coady, Matthew Conley, Brianna Humphrey, Kefir Klee, Emma Miller, Katie Moyers, Sophie Reed, Rachel Rassette, Brooke Rubenacker and Xavier St. John, all of Midland.
“The Phantom Tollbooth” will run at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, at 3 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and at 3 p.m. on Sunday at the Midland Center for the Arts. Tickets are $14 for adults and $10 for students.
For more information, mcfta.org