Firehouse Arts Center hosting family musical theater tonight

Adventure awaits at 'Phantom Tollbooth' on Pleasanton stage

Young singers and actors are onstage at the Firehouse Arts Center for their second weekend of performances in "The Phantom Tollbooth, Jr.," a musical based on a children's fantasy adventure novel.

The story spins the tale of a bored young boy named Milo who one afternoon unexpectedly receives a magic tollbooth. Having nothing better to do, Milo drives through it in his toy car -- and he is transported to the Kingdom of Wisdom, once a prosperous place but now troubled.

"We chose 'Phantom Tollbooth' because it's a classic that I remember reading and loving as a child that is still part of many classrooms today," director Amber Dyson said. "We thought this story would resonate with our performers and audiences alike."

In the kingdom, Milo acquires two faithful companions and goes on a quest to restore to the kingdom its exiled princesses -- named Rhyme and Reason -- from the Castle in the Air. In the process, he learns valuable lessons and discovers a love of learning.

Milo begins with Expectations, a pleasant place where he starts on Wisdom's road. As he drives on, he daydreams and soon is paying no attention at all, which gets him lost in The Doldrums, a colorless place where nothing ever happens.

Milo finds himself joining the inhabitants in their popular pastime of "killing time," which gets interrupted by the arrival of Tock, a very oversized talking dog with an alarm clock on each side (a "watchdog"). Tock tells Milo that the only way out of the Doldrums is by thinking -- and then joins Milo on his journey through all the lands of Wisdom.

The musical is a production of the Pleasanton Civic Arts Stage Company in partnership with Bay Area Children's Theatre. Auditions were last April, with 48 actors, ranging in ages from 8 to 14 years of age, chosen from all over the Tri-Valley and beyond.

As is the tradition with Civic Arts Stage Company, the actors are split into two casts, denoted as "Words" and "Numbers."

"The thing that we love about the performers we encounter in Pleasanton is their enthusiasm, drive and commitment," said Dyson, who has been directing with Bay Area Children's Theatre for six years.

"Civic Arts students take their commitment to a production seriously -- for example, during the camp portion of this production, they would frequently help each other practice the more complex dance segments during their snack and lunch breaks. This commitment allows them to achieve high artistic standards and makes them a joy to watch on stage."

The production staff also includes stage manager Zach Goldberg; Cassie Barnes, lighting; Joan Howard, props; Martin Flynn, set design; and production manager Maria Castro. New to the production team are choreographer Kristin Avila; music director Anne Norland; and Andrea Phillips, costumes.

The show ran last weekend and runs again this weekend, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $12, $15, $18; children and seniors, $7, $10, $13. Go to, call 931-4848, or purchase at the theater box office, 4444 Railroad Ave.

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