Take a Journey of the Mind This Summer with The Phantom Tollbooth at The Island Theater

Fantasy and allegory unite in this classic children’s tale brimming with mysterious characters, smart puns, and delightful adventures. 

The Phantom Tollbooth—a play by Susan Nanus based on the classic 1961 novel by Norton Juster—has long served as many young reader’s first foray into the world of science fiction and fantasy adventure. The Island Theater in Fleming Island enlivens the quirky tale for a new generation. Whether you’re a reminiscing reader sharing the story with your kids or grandkids or you’re entirely unfamiliar with the storyline but are looking for a family-friendly summer excursion, you’ll find a whole lot to love.  

Phantom Tollbooth at The Island Theatre, Photo by Jennifer Melville, Fleming Island

The story begins in the bedroom of an insufferably bored young man named Milo (Jonathan Okey). His uneventful life is turned on end when he receives a mysterious package in the mail: a magical tollbooth. Transported into the Lands Beyond, Milo finds himself on a wild adventure to rescue Princesses Rhyme and Reason from the Castle in the Air. 

With the adorable watchdog Tock (Chloe LaBrie) and the spunky Humbug (Olivia Williams) at his side, Milo sets out on the adventure of a lifetime. Azaz the Unabridged (Chris Lewis)—the ruler of Dictionopolis—vehemently believes words are the most important aspect of life. His mathematical counterpart, the Mathemagician (Brandon Sullivan) fiercely proclaims numbers to be the true key to understanding. Their inability to amicably agree resulted in many problems, beginning with the banishment of Princess Sweet Rhyme (Anna Hambleton) and Princess Pure Reason (Natalie Hambleton).  If the princesses can be rescued—an admittedly impossible task– all will be right in the land once more. 

Phantom Tollbooth at The Island Theatre, Photo by Jennifer Melville, Fleming Island

The journey from Dictionopolis to Digitopolis introduces the audience to delightfully colorful characters. You’ll adore the Spelling Bee (Brighton Brown) and the Dodecahedron (Elizabeth Stitt). Kakafonous A. Dischord (Larissa Ashton) and the Awful Dynne (Analise Stuart) are perfectly creepy. I loved the multi-colored Lethargarians and the Whether Man. The costumes were fabulous and the script closely mirrors the novel. I enjoyed the smart word play throughout and the timeless themes simmering just below the surface. 

Phantom Tollbooth at The Island Theatre, Photo by Jennifer Melville, Fleming Island

Directed by Tricia Williams and Mac McDonald (Assistant Director), The Phantom Tollbooth is part of the Island Theater’s Family Summer Shows Series. The production offers children of all ages a taste of stage life without having to worry about it interfering with school schedules while also bringing great children’s literature to the stage for the community to enjoy. The double-cast production is entirely family-friendly and features actors and actresses of all ages and experience levels. There are plenty of parent/ child acting duos on stage. I love all the Island Theater is doing to make theater accessible in Northeast Florida. If you have an aspiring actor or actress, check out their affordable acting workshops (Scholarships are also available!). 

Phantom Tollbooth at The Island Theatre, Photo by Jennifer Melville, Fleming Island

I adored the costumes and sweet community performers most of all. Each of them acted their hearts out and I’m so proud of the efforts they made. My daughter read The Phantom Tollbooth this past schoolyear for her Classical Conversations class and it was so special experiencing the story on stage together. She gives it a big thumbs up and thought the cast did justice to the book.  The story is a bit odd if you aren’t familiar with it, but sit back and approach it with an open mind. This is a great show to share with the whole family and it’ll give you plenty to talk about afterwards. I feel inspired to pluck the novel off my bookshelf and revisit it with my younger children. There’s so much wisdom within these words!

Beat the heat this summer and allow yourself to be swept away to the Lands Beyond. The Phantom Tollbooth runs July 11-21st. Come out and show your support for local theater and the brilliant young performers on stage. It’s beyond adorable!  

About Jennifer Melville

Jennifer Melville is a contributing writer for EU Jacksonville, South Magazine, Folio Magazine, Green Prints, Focus on the Family, and various other print and online publications. She’s a military wife, mother of four, and a leader in the NE Florida homeschooling community. You can check out more of her work on her website, Azalea Publications or follow her on Twitter.