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Albion Middle School performs ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’

Posted 15 March 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Sue Cook – The marketplace of Dictionopolis, the land of words, is populated by word vendors, the Spelling Bee (Jules Hoepting), and King Azaz’s advisors.

Front row from left: The Terrible Trivium (Samantha Hollenbeck), the Princess of Reason (Hailey Bader), Milo (Riley Seielstad), the Princess of Rhyme (Analys Torres), and a Dictionopolis Vendor pose with other cast members.

By Sue Cook, staff reporter

ALBION – A cast and crew of nearly 80 Albion Middle School students are performing the musical “The Phantom Tollbooth,” which is based on the book of the same name by author Norton Juster.

Director Carrie Kozody explained that the school provides the Drama Club with a budget to purchase the rights to the play or musical of their choice. After that, ticket sales from each show help to fund the costumes and other items needed for the performance.

When asked how a play or musical is chosen, she responded, “I look at it and decide is it entertaining, what is the music, and would the team enjoy producing it?”

The Humbug (Emma Tower) attempts to dissuade Milo from rescuing the princesses, assuring him that the journey is just too difficult and a waste of time. The Spelling Bee (Jules Hoepting) stands by and watches as the Humbug explains the hardships of the trip.

“The Phantom Tollbooth” is the story of a very bored and uninterested boy named Milo (Riley Seielstad). One day a mysterious tollbooth appears in his bedroom with a little car. He drives the car past the tollbooth and instantly finds himself in a magical, imaginative world where he learns many valuable lessons.

On his adventures he meets many fascinating characters including Tock the Watchdog (Matilda Erakare) who accompanies him throughout the Kingdom of Wisdom. He brings peace to the lands of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis after returning the princesses of Rhyme (Analys Torres) and Reason (Hailey Bader) to the kingdom. Returning home, Milo finds that if he just uses a little thought and imagination, suddenly the real world around him is an incredible, interesting place.

Kozody said that the production is made of 44 cast members and 32 crew members. All of them are students from the middle school ranging from grades 6 to 8. Her Assistant Director is Kevin Feder. Both are teachers at the middle school.

The Whether Man (Molly Wadhams) greets Milo as he enters the Kingdom of Wisdom and performs a number explaining that the state of the weather is not her purpose.

Auditions for the show began in December. The students began practicing for the show in January immediately after returning from their winter break. The students were supposed to have a full dress rehearsal on Wednesday for an empty auditorium, but the blizzard canceled school forcing the first live-audience performance to be done in front of fellow students.

During the December audtions, Riley Seielstad was cast as Milo. When asked why she auditioned, Seielstad said, “I did a past show. It was a lot of fun to be with all my friends and a good experience.”

Seielstad was excited to be Milo. In the schools previous show of “Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass,” the story of Alice in Wonderland, Seielstad played Tweedle Dee. She will have family attending all three of the performances to cheer her on, as will most of the students.

Milo, Tock (Matilda Erakare), King Mathemagician (Dalton Wilkins), and several miners perform “Hail Digitopolis” in the number mines of the land of numbers.

For the audition process, all of the students sang “Jingle Bells” for Kozody and also chose a segment from the play to read lines of various characters. Seielstad explained that because it is the first time they are performing the lines, they may either memorize them or read them off the paper verbatim.

“I chose Riley for Milo,” explained Kozody, “because she has a clear and distinct singing voice.” Kozody explained that Seielstad had a very good audition and just also happened to be a passable boy in the clothing chosen for Milo.

Alongside Milo is the faithful companion Tock the Watchdog, the other main lead role. Matilda Erakare was very excited to become the character.

When asked why she chose to audition, Erakare explained, “I come from a musical family. It just kind of runs through my family.” She also admitted that she is somewhat shy, especially about singing in front of people. “But once I get going…” she said with a huge smile.

Director Kozody applies makeup for Erakare before the show ensuring that any skin showing from her dog hood is covered.

“Matilda has grown in acting skills,” Kozody said. “She was the Red Queen in Alice. She has strong singing skills and acting skills.”

Because the audition process does not allow students to pursue specific roles, Kozody allows the students to suggest what role they would like to play, and then takes the nature of their audition into consideration when selecting the cast. Kozody estimates that approximately 75 students auditioned and roughly 30 to 40 more signed up to try and get a role on the crew.

The students all performed beautifully and showed very strong talent. It would be no surprise if many of them were to continue performing into high school, college or even beyond that. The cast includes many strong singers and dancers, as well as a great aptitude for acting.

The students take a last bow on stage at the end of the show.

The students will perform again on Saturday at noon and at 7 p.m. in the middle school auditorium. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. The school is located at 324 East Ave. in Albion. The doors open a half-hour before each show.