The Phantom Tollbooth was a gift to my kids and a gentle reminder to me as a parent by Family Blogger Lisa

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster was a family favorite from my childhood. My brother gave me the hardcover book and I swear I read it more than a dozen times. I was thrilled when I learned that Childsplay Theatre was going to do the production as part of its 2017-2018 Storybook Season for Families.

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As a parent of two boys, ages 10 and 11, I can attest that sometimes school and homework can be a challenge. Especially as young boys start to assert their independence and blossom into whom they’ll become. My boys and I read The Phantom Tollbooth as a bedtime story during the summer. We jumped at the opportunity to attend the opening show at Tempe Center for the Performing Arts.

What a treat we had! First, we attended a pre-show opportunity with the cast, and puppet and costume designer Rebecca Akins. She introduced us to the challenges of planning and building unique costumes and puppets for this particular play. With five cast members acting out dozens of characters, how do you do it? With enough puppets and costume changes to leave the crowd in awe.

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The Humbug was our personal favorite. As one of the main “characters,” he never left the stage. The Humbug had such personality thanks to cast member Tony Latham, who helped The Humbug come to life before our eyes.

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During the play, the cast did such a fine job in retelling this childhood classic. The props for the Dictionopolis marketplace presented by Kate Haas in were so clever. The prop team placed attention to every detail to make sure the visuals showcased the humor of the scene and exaggerated the play on words of the book. They accomplished this while making the letters easy to read for young and old eyes in the audience.

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Milo, played by Rudy Ramirez, and Tock, played by Micha Jondel DeShazer, were an excellent pair. They had the same synergy you imagined when reading the book. Their friendship develops quickly and after such an impactful journey to rescue Rhyme and Reason, the audience got misty-eyed when Milo had to say his good-bye to Tock and return home.

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At the end of the play, the cast thoughtfully facilitated a Q&A session with the audience. I loved how they engaged with the younger kids to help synthesize the material and enhance their learning experience. My favorite commentary was shared by Debra K. Stevens when she spoke about King Azaz’s gift to Milo. It was a box with all the letters of the alphabet.

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“In this box you’ll find all the words I know,” he said. “Most of them you’ll never need, some you’ll use constantly, but with them you may ask all the questions which have never been answered and answer all the questions which have never been asked. All the great books of the past and all the ones yet to come are made of these words. With them there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn is to use them in all the right places”. — King Azaz

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With two boys trying to find their way in this ever-more-complicated world, this reminder to choose our words wisely and be open-minded, to seek to understand in everything we do, was a gift to my kids and a gentle reminder to me as a parent.

As we were leaving the theatre, my boys asked if we could read the book again. YES, OF COURSE. Why? They identified with Milo and related to his journey and the ups and downs that life can present.

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It was all possible because of the talented Childsplay Theatre cast and Director Dwayne Hartford, who thoughtfully brought this story to life. I’d highly recommend this performance for any student who wants to be inspired or a parent who wants to highlight the opportunities that the world of art and science, language and math, can provide for their child.

This production of The Phantom Tollbooth affirms Childsplay’s mission to create theatre so strikingly original in form and content that it instills in young people an enduring awe, love and respect for the medium, thus preserving imagination and wonder, those hallmarks of childhood that are keys to the future.

I couldn’t agree more.

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