The Phantom Tollbooth: Community-Building through Laughter and Lessons

Every spring semester, the Grove City Theater department puts on a spectacular display of color, song, and dance. Pastels and primaries adorn the sets, catchy, hummable tunes resonate from the stage, and actors dart this way and that in choreographed numbers.

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The production just described is the annual Children’s Theater musical, Grove City’s musical dedicated purely to childhood entertainment. The difference between the Fall musical and Children’s Theater lies in the nature of the shows. Often the shows are based on fables and children’s books, such as Flat Stanley, The Ugly Duckling, and The Emperor’s New Clothes.

CT 2The story books read in classes and bedrooms come to life on stage for hundreds of children at a time, introducing them to the magic of the stage. For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of putting on these spectacular productions, but this year I decided to step back. It was a tough decision, but a necessary one in the last semester of my senior year.

The initial sacrifice, though, led to an unexpected reward. For the first time I could be the one to enjoy Children’s Theater. It was well worth it. The stories are campy, filled with larger than life villains and heroes who pull off daring feats to save the day. But for a children’s show, what more could you ask for?

This year’s production, The Phantom Tollbooth, was as captivating as ever. Based on the book of the same name, The Phantom Tollbooth follows the adventures of Milo (played by Rachel Criswell), a bored young boy who learns the importance of learning and the value of camaraderie. He slips into an imaginary land full of alphabetical and numerical monarchs, a clockwork dog, and two princesses, Rhyme and Reason, who are threatened by the Demons of Complacency.

The hour-long production was full of toe tapping songs, quippy dialogue, and a plot that admonishes children that boredom only results from a lack of imagination. The point was clear, but the lesson was timeless. It reminded me of the joy of simple, straightforward storytelling.

The journey from auditions to performances is certainly a long one. From rehearsals to set design to costume work, the work that goes into the production should not be forgotten. A well-polished production can make an audience forget about the hours upon hours of preparation that went into putting it together.

CT 3The most impressive aspect of Children’s Theater is the fact that it is entirely student run. From directing to contacting schools in order to bring in local students, the process is headed by a team of students passionate about theater and driven to produce a fun, meaningful musical for all who attend, not just the grade-school children in the audience. Student directors, set designers, audio technicians, and more come together and create something magical. It’s a true indication of the dedication and investment Grove City students possess, especially those in the Theater department.







Rob Davis is a senior at Grove City College pursuing Communication Studies and English. Over the past four years he has honed his passions, words and people, primarily through the Theater Arts and various organizations on campus. In the fall of 2017 he will be starting a 9 month leadership development program, the Pittsburgh Fellows, with a Fellowship at Net Health.

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