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The Phantom Tollbooth

Musical in 2 Acts. Book by: Norton Juster and Sheldon Harnick; Lyrics by: Sheldon Harnick; Music by: Arnold Black
Based on the novel by Norton Juster

Premiere - The Kennedy Center, Washington, DC - Nov 16 - Dec 16, 2007 (season)


Even surrounded by dozens of toys, Milo is bored. Nothing interests him at all. The Demons of Ignorance are certain he will be their next victim, telling him “If you get the urge to do anything - don’t. It could be dangerous.” To the rescue comes The Phantom Tollbooth!

Norton Juster’s beloved children’s book is given full musical treatment in this stage version of the modern tale of a boy who must save the princesses Rhyme and Reason and reunite the brother Kings who rule over the cities of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. Aided by a trusty time-keeping dog, Tock, Milo successfully brings harmony to the Land of Wisdom and learns many things about words and numbers along his journey. Perhaps the most important lesson he takes with him, however, is that everything we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone. When he returns home, he realises there is never a reason to be bored in a world full of so many things to discover.



Milo lays in his room, alone. Some school mates of his come to his house and ask him to go to the park with him. He turns them down and they complain that he never wants to do anything. Milo is never interested by anything at all. He hates and is bored by everything, especially school. ("Another Boring Afternoon")

Three demons appear in Milo's room, though Milo does not know they are there. They are pleased that Milo wants to do nothing and is bored with everything. They are doing their job in making sure of that.

As the Demons disappear, the handles on Milo's dresser light up and the front of the dresser opens to reveal the Phantom Tollbooth. There are two buttons, continue and cancel. Milo approaches and figures there is nothing to lose. He presses continue. His room disappears and the tollbooth comes to life. Milo is given all the instructions he needs. He pushes a button and receives a coin and another button and receives a map, then his car arrives! He looks at the map, and decides to go to the Castle in the Air. He deposits the coin, passes the tollbooth and is on his way. Milo drives down an unfamiliar country road and neither his room nor the tollbooth are in sight. Everything seems brighter than Milo had ever seen before.

Milo sees a man holding a sign on the side of the road and pulls up to him. The man welcomes Milo to the Land of Expectations. He explains this is the place where everyone must stop before they get where they are going. Many people never make it beyond this place, and this man's job is to rush them along. He is the Whether Man. Milo asks if this is the right road to Dictionopolis. The Whether Man says there are no wrong roads there so this must be the right one.

However, Milo begins to daydream and takes a wrong turn. Milo stops and falls asleep behind the wheel of his car. The Lathargarians approach and inspect Milo. Milo awakes but realises the Lethargarians are harmless. He asks where he is and they explain he is in the Doldrums, which is where nothing ever happens or ever changes. Thinking and laughing are illegal here. They explain to Milo what their days are like here in the Dolodroms, nothing but eating, napping and procrastinating which keeps them very busy. The only person in the Doldrums who ever does anything is the watchdog. He approaches and the Lethargarians scatter. The Watchdog asks Milo what he is doing there. Milo says he is on his way to Dictionopolis, and The Watchdog tells him he got stuck here because he was not thinking and the only way to get out is to start thinking. He urges Milo who begins to think about anything he can which gets him moving again. Tock, the Watchdog, tells Milo the story of Dictionopolis. Years ago there were two princes born, one with a gift for words and one with a gift for numbers. The rift grew so great between them that they each went their separate way and established their own land, Azaz became the ruler of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician became the ruler of Digitopolis. Their sisters; the Princess Rhyme and the Princess Reason tried to settle the quarrel. They ruled that numbers and words were of equal value. The brothers still could not agree except to agree that this answer from their sisters, equal importance, was wrong. They banished the two princesses to the Castle in the Air.

Tock and Milo arrive in Dictionopolis and it is Market day. They find themselves in a market where words are being sold and bought. Milo is amazed by how many words there are and how many uses. While at the market they meet the Spelling Bee, a large bee, who never stings, but can spell anything. They also meet the Humbug, an old beetle who is skeptical of everything. Milo tells him that since he seems so wise he must be able to help them meet the king. The King's Advisors arrive and welcome Milo and lead him to the king. Since words are so important, they try to use all of them, even if in one sentence they use four words that all mean the same thing. Milo sees the down side to words now too, they can be very confusing. The King agrees with Milo that ever since Rhyme and Reason were banished things seem to make little sense. Milo and Tock say that they want to try and rescue Rhyme and Reason and return them here. The King is cautious, saying it would be a difficult job. He warns Milo and Tock of all the dangers that lay on the way to the Castle in the Air. He also tells them that his brother, the Mathemagician would have to agree to their rescue and if he knew Azaz said yes, he never would. Milo takes a moment to decide if he is brave enough to take on this challenge and decides that he is. The King gives Milo a dictionary to use on his way. The people of Dictionopolis gather to send Milo and Tock on their way.


The road seems to have disappeared and Milo and Tock are now on foot. They are carrying on though, as the Demons watch. They wonder what Milo thinks he is doing. They cannot believe he is trying to accomplish something and thinks himself to be important. They warn that they have ways of stopping him. The travellers seek out help. They meet a man who confuses them even more-he says he is a giant, a midget, a fat man and a thin man. They try to point out the problem with this, but he just sends them on their way. They meet Dr. Dischord and his assistants the Deci-Belles. They specialise in noises, all sorts of noises, especially loud ones. They point them to a sign which shows them the way to Digitopolis. It is actually three signs, one with miles, one with yards and feet and one with inches. They cannot decide which one to follow. Dodecahedron, a mathematical figure with twelve different faces, greets them. They ask her which sign to follow and she leads them on a shortcut. Milo is now very confused-he is not good at problems.

They arrive at the Numbers Mine. Milo is amazed that this is where numbers come from! Dodecahedron assures him that you must dig for numbers and it is very hard work. He wonders if it is worth it-he feels numbers are not even that important. The miners teach Milo the importance of numbers. After all, how can you have tea for two without numbers? The Mathemagician arrives and greets his guests. He assures them of the importance of numbers over words. They sit down to lunch but feel hungrier than before. They had eaten the special of Digitopolis, Subtraction Stew. They discuss the confusion of things here since Rhyme and Reason were banished. Milo explains that he wishes to save them but he needs the Mathemagician's consent. As soon as the Mathemagician realises his brother Azaz has consented, he will not. He insists that they will never agree on anything, and unless Milo can prove him different, he may not go save Rhyme and Reason. Milo points out that they will always agree to disagree. Obviously proven wrong, the Mathemagician gives Milo a pencil to solve any problems he encounters and sends him on his way.

Milo and Tock head into the Mountains of Ignorance as the demons anxiously await them. Milo and Tock go head to head with all the demons who are trying to stop them. There is Trivium, the Demon of Worthless Tasks. He tries to enlist their help in filling his pool using eye droppers and untangling paper clips, all of which would take forever. There is The Demon of Insincerity who keeps them running around in circles and gives them the worst advice. Finally there is the Senses Taker who tries to bury them in questions and forms. With the help of his pencil and dictionary Milo manages to complete them all and they begin the climb to the Castle in the Air. They reach the Princess Rhyme and the Princess Reason, who delight that someone is here to rescue them. They say how clever Milo must have been to get here, but Milo is filled with doubt now since he has no idea how to get them back safely past all the demons. They assure Milo that he has changed from who he once was and can now do anything. The Demons begin to destroy the stairway and Milo, Tock and the princesses don't know how to get back down. Milo realises that time flies and Tock, who is a Watchdog, can get them down safely. As they land, the demons move in trying to ambush them. They just about have them surrounded when the kings, and their armies, from Digitopolis and Dictionopolis arrive. The demons are outnumbered and retreat. It is declared that Rhyme and Reason once again reign over both kingdoms and that Milo and Tock are heroes. Milo heads for home and ends up back where he started from. As he stands in his room he looks around and does not see his car or the tollbooth. There is a letter on his bed. It explains that now that he knows his way he no longer needs the tollbooth, so it has been collected for other people to use. Milo is sure that he won't even have time to go on another journey since now he realises just how much he has to do right at home. His schoolmates come by again and this time, Milo joins them, excited to go out and do things.


Musical Numbers

  1. Prologue / Another Boring Afternoon
  2. Demons' Song: Gotcha
  3. The Bird of the Booth
  4. A Ride Beyond Expectation
  5. The Whether Man
  6. The Doldrums
  7. Chaconne of the Lethargarians
  8. The Lethargians
  9. The Lethargian Shuffle
  10. Tock's Narrative
  11. Welcome to Dictionopolis
  12. At the Market
  13. The Spelling Bee
  14. Entrance of King Azaz
  15. Azaz's Warning
  16. Do I Dare
  17. Good Fortune to Tock and Milo
  18. The Second Demon Scene - Gotcha (Reprise)
  19. Giant/Midget
  20. The Joys of Noise
  21. The Dodecahedron
  22. Hail Digitopolis - The Number Miners Number
  23. The Mathemagician's Entrance, Subtraction Stew
  24. From Farewell Digitopolis Through Mountains of Ignorance, The Senses Taker
  25. Gotcha!! (Reprise)
  26. Milo
  27. The Return of Rhyme and Reason
  28. The Drive Back Home
  29. Finale