Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins
Clio Cast and Crew continued their journey around the 2015-16 theatre season with a trip through the Arnold Black and Sheldon Harnick musical The Phantom Tollbooth.
Directed by Denise French and Nicole Dunckel – The Phantom Tollbooth is based on a 1961 children’s adventure novel by Norton Juster. It tells the story of a bored young boy named Milo who unexpectedly receives a magic tollbooth one afternoon and, having nothing better to do, drives through it in his toy car.
The audience is immediately hit with a vivid and colorful set complete with swinging panels, a radio booth and a mountain that leads to the sky. The set design, construction and set art are amazing. There was even a fully operational car. Truly inspired.
One critique of the novel is quoted: “Clearly a book by an unabashedly brainy adult, it evangelizes intellectualism with glee, which some kids are going to find more entertaining than others”(Common Sense Media).
Well the audience, rife with young’uns, loved the show. The full house easily followed the story, cheered for the hero and applauded the rescue of Princesses Rhyme and Reason. And the show is about numbers and letters as warring brothers Azaz, lover of letters, played humorously by Duane Dunckel and Mathemagician, lover of numbers, played with consternation by Bill Flagerstrom watch their kingdoms fall apart as their daughters, the princesses, languish in a prison tower in the sky.
The hero Milo and his new sidekick Tock, a timely dog, are played splendidly by Jacob Hynes and Clara Usealman. These youngsters had a wonderful chemistry together and played off each other well. There were occasional volume lapses (from the whole cast) but Jacob and Clara memorized a lot of dialogue as well as their song book. Jacob was just the right amount of bored, incredulous and brave. Clara adopted many “dog” mannerisms and was totally believable as the trusty friend.
Other standouts in this enormous cast were the Princesses Tessa Watson and Abby Messing – both with strong singing voices. Toni Henry as the Spelling Bee, who was flown in from the skywalk? also had a nice singing voice. Jacob Fagerstrom was quite entertaining as Giant/Midget/Thin Man/Fat Man.
The talented cast was peppered with families as Moms and Dads got to act with their kids and brother and sister combos were also prevalent. The directors did an amazing job with this large cast that quite literally filled the stage at the curtain call, including holding craft sessions to build props and organizing a pancake breakfast fundraiser. Clio Cast and Crew have a tremendous and supportive family.
A mention must be made of the marvelous orchestra that played throughout the show and of course accompanied the cast for the musical numbers. Lead by Musical Director Dana Usealman the band helped establish a timely pace and kept the show energized.
Though celebrating over 50 years of existence, The Phantom Tollbooth is a bit off the beaten path. Clio Cast and Crew can be applauded for stepping away from overdone children’s theatre selections and having the faith in this unconventional piece.
Bring your loose change for a fantastic trip through The Phantom Tollbooth. But hurry because the production has only two more performances at Theatre 57 on Vienna Rd. in Clio, today at 7:30 pm and tomorrow at 2:30 pm. Call 810-687-2588 for more information.