Weston presents 'The Phantom Tollbooth'

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Weston Playhouse Theatre Company opened its 2019 summer season at its theatrical space at Walker Farm with "The Phantom Tollbooth."

The musical adaptation by Sheldon Harnick and Arnold Black of the 1961 children's fantasy novel by Norman Juster is about a boy who is bored with school, his friends, television and, well, everything. Last Friday's energetic performance by Weston's Young Company of this throwback show gently reminded us that there is always more to discover for open minds and hearts.

The show revolves around Milo, who does not see why he must learn his sums or how to spell Mozambique. He rejects friends' entreaties to venture out, but nothing at home captures his interest either. Nodding off, the sudden appearance of a magic tollbooth finds Milo embarking in his toy car on a journey to the Land of Wisdom to rescue the Princesses Rhyme and Reason, who have been banished to the Castle in the Air by feuding brothers who rule over kingdoms that respectively venerate words and numbers. Sounds complicated but it isn't, and Milo, accompanied by a watchdog, Tock, saves the day and in the process, learns to love learning.

As Milo, Alexander Tan did not sugarcoat his character's somewhat petulant manner and in so doing, made him more believable if not someone to root for. Tan's reedy singing voice was a perfect fit for his wistful solo number, "Another Boring Afternoon." Grace Martini's delightfully bouncy mien as watchdog Tock balanced Milo's pessimistic outlook.

Every other member of the eight-person ensemble tackled a variety of roles with aplomb. In particular, the lilting harmonies of Bella Muller and Daelynn Jorif, as Princesses Rhyme and Reason, were lovely. Ben Senneff and Dominic Dorset, in their turns as the argumentative kings, effectively conveyed the silliness of each's intransigence. Jazley Genovese and Sammi Messina rounded out the talented cast.

Scenic Designer Brian Dudkewicz's set consisted of a stack of giant classic novels for young adults on which initially sat Milo's bedroom. It offered plenty of opportunities for the dancing troupe, guided with precision by Choreographer Felicity Stiverson, to scale heights and tumble on cue. Costume Designer Whitney Locher clothed her charges in a variety of colors and styles befitting the fantasy. The outfits worn by the Demons, replete with illuminated eyes and cloaks, were scary, but not too scary.

The opening performance last Friday occurred while school remained in session for most of the youngsters for whom "The Phantom Tollbooth" is presumably targeted. Judging by the mostly adult audience's reaction, the show will strike a chord with any age group, and especially those just starting their summer vacation. Much like the Young Company's production of "Schoolhouse Rock Live" a few years ago, "The Phantom Tollbooth" offers lessons but always includes the fun.

Afternoon performances of "The Phantom Tollbooth," which runs just one very quick hour and five minutes, continue through June 30 at Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm, just a stone's throw north on Route 100 from Weston Village.

For ticket information, call the Weston box office at (802) 824-5288 or visit its website at www.westonplayhouse.org.

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