Vancouver kids star in musical adaptation of ‘Phantom Tollbooth’

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



If You Go

• What: “The Phantom Tollbooth TYA”

• When: 4 p.m. June 16; 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. June 17.

• Where: Columbia Room, Vancouver Community Library, 901 C Street.

• Admission: Free

• On the web:

Parents who want their impressionable children to stay grounded, realistic and practical may want to avoid any exposure to “The Phantom Tollbooth.”

But rush right ahead if you’re up for exploring all the paradoxes and puzzles that are baked into our brains: words and numbers, time and space, demons running amok in mountains of ignorance, princesses of rhyme and reason imprisoned in a castle in the air.

Norton Juster’s dazzling fantasy novel of abstractions made real, published in 1961, has demonstrated to generations of children (including this grownup one) just how strangely self-contradictory — and strangely beautiful — this mundane world really is. You could call “The Phantom Tollbooth” the modern American version of the similarly brain-teasing “Alice in Wonderland,” which was published in England almost one century earlier.

In “Alice,” a little girl falls into absurd dreams (and nightmares) after she chases a hare down its hole; in “The Phantom Tollbooth,” a bored little boy named Milo receives a mystery gift that plunges him into life’s many weird lessons.

Chief among these lessons is the value of learning itself. “What you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow,” one of those wise princesses tells Milo.

Now, a children’s musical version of “The Phantom Tollbooth” is coming to the Vancouver Community Library. This show, staged by Metropolitan Performing Arts Academy, is the “TYA” adaptation — meaning “Theater for Young Audiences.” The slightly shortened plot is punched up with song, but the same tricky ideas and tantalizing wordplay rule the day. The young cast is made up of Vancouver kids who have been taking the entry-level “Broadway Jr.” program at MPAA, according to executive director Barbara Richardson. The director is Will Johnson and the musical direction and choreography are by Kristin Heller.

Performances will take place in the big front room at the library at 4 p.m. today and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday. The show is 90 minutes long. That’s not much time — and, as we know from the book: “Time is a gift, given to you, given to give you the time you need, the time you need to have the time of your life.”