Wheelock Family Theatre’s first show of the season, “The Phantom Tollbooth,” stars a 12-year-old YouTube singing sensation and an actor with a knack for playing four-legged creatures.
Both return to Wheelock for this musical based on Norton Juster’s book about a bored boy named Milo who drives his toy car into the Kingdom of Wisdom.
“The show reminds me of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ because it’s about a kid going on a journey in a magical land,” says Jeffrey Sewell, who plays that kid, Milo.
Early on, Milo meets Tock, a watchdog who joins him on a quest to rescue two princesses. Though Tock talks (the story is full of wordplay) like a human, Michael Wood plays the character with uncanny canine behavior.
“This is in an odd way a dream role. I’ve been preparing for it my whole life,” says Wood, known for his lead gig in last summer’s Gold Dust Orphan production “Peter Pansy.”
“If you ask any of my siblings, they’ll tell you that I used to run around our yard for hours on all fours.”
“He’s unbelievable. It’s like he’s a real dog,” says Sewell, who has an equally impressive pastime.
The sixth-grader has racked up more than 200,000 views on his YouTube channel, TheJMSmovies, where he uploads his covers of hits like “So Much Better” from the “Legally Blonde” musical.
A seeing-eye dog, of sorts
The dynamic between Sewell and Wood is much like that of their characters, a boy and his dog.
“Jeffrey is incredibly talented, not just for a child, but for any co-star I’ve ever worked with. It’s funny, in a lot of ways I take his lead in the way a dog would take a human’s lead,” says Wood. “And then there are moments in rehearsal where I see him looking to me for help, almost in the way a human looks to a dog for support.”