What happens when the King Mathemagician and King Azaz go head-to-head and banish Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason from the Land of Wisdom? A topsy turvy imaginary world is created full of puns and quirky characters like Whetherman, Dodecahedrons and Deciblelles in Cal Poly’s theatre and dance department production of “The Phantom Tollbooth.”
The musical, opening this week, is brought to the stage as an adaption of Norton Juster’s popular children’s adventure book “The Phantom Tollbooth.”
The story begins with a bored and unmotivated boy named Milo who gets a surprise visit from a magical car and tollbooth that transports him to another world where he must rescue Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason and bring them back to the Land of Wisdom.
“It’s centered around language and science and math and how they work together,” said graphic communications sophomore Aubrea Felch. “I kind of see it as the battle of the two colleges: Science and math and liberal arts.”
Felch plays a watchdog named Tock who not so coincidentally wears a clock.
The script is sprinkled with many play on words. “The puns in the story are just hilarious,” theatre junior Rocky Jarman said.
The double meanings are apparent with characters like the Giant Midget and fictional cities named Dictionopolis and Digitopolis.
The cast consists of five men and five women who play 50 characters total. While only two actors play the same role throughout the entire musical the eight others are constantly making quick transformations.
“The hardest part of playing several different characters is making sure they each are very specific and different from one another and believable,” Jarman said.
Distinguishing between the characters takes practice, she said, but gets easier with more experience and training.
“A lot of the theatre classes here help to find each of those parts of the performance and make it easier,” Jarman said. Some of the classes include focus on movement, voice and diction and different aspects of acting.
Because the musical is staged in the three quarter round, audience members are seated in chairs and risers on the stage, and actors must be aware of their entire body’s movements.
“In life you don’t always see people being presentational in everything they do. You see a conversation, you may see the back of someone and the face of someone and I think that is interesting,” said director and communication studies and theatre and dance lecturer Erma Stauffer.
“One of my thoughts in doing it on stage in the three quarter round is that there wasn’t such a strict division in actors and audience that the whole area is play space,” she said. “I think it makes you feel more involved in it.”
The musical is one of the first large productions in years for Cal Poly. Stauffer explained that musicals are rarer because they are more expensive, take more time to rehearse and require collaboration with a music director.
However, Stauffer felt a musical was necessary to give the students experience because for theatre graduates most of the jobs in the real world are in musicals. She also thought it was time for a pick-me-up performance.
“We are in a difficult time in this country and in the world with the economic crisis with sort of some uncertainty,” she said. “In some ways this show is a great antidote to not feeling super happy about things because it is really upbeat, it is great fun; simple adventure.”
Performances will be held at 7 p.m. May 14 to 16 and May 20 to 22 in Spanos Theatre. Special matinee performances start at 2 p.m. May 16 to 17 in Spanos Theatre. Because of the stage design there is limited seating. Tickets can be purchased at the Performing Arts Center box office for $14.