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Review of Professor Phineas T. Boggs: Elijah and the Famine from The Academy of Arts

Finding out about new family-friendly audio drama is always fun. Like other listeners, I heard about one from The Academy of Arts on  episod...

Finding out about new family-friendly audio drama is always fun. Like other listeners, I heard about one from The Academy of Arts on episode 143 of Audio Theatre Central. The audio drama was Elijah and the Famine from a series called Professor Phineas T. Boggs and His Incredible GOBAC Time Machine.

 

I was not real familiar with The Academy of Arts except for the news I saw about their stage plays of some of the Narnia books. Their website gives this summary of their mission:

Founded in 1971, the Academy of Arts exists to train and inspire the next generation of servant leaders to properly use the universal gift of communication for others’ good and God’s glory. The Academy lives out this vision through their multi-faceted organization which includes the Logos Theatre, a Christian Conservatory, 2 traveling ministries to 13 states, a professional film company, Venture Films, and supplying classes and training for all ages to “make the Bible come alive.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Academy of Arts turned to audio drama as means to tell stories when they were unable to perform plays in person. Their first audio drama is an adaptation of the stage play that was performed by the Academy of Arts several years ago (you can buy a recording of that play on their website). Like the original stage play, the audio adaptation is also a musical.

After hearing a preview for the show on Audio Theatre Central, I was intrigued. I later went and bought a copy for myself. After listening to it several times, I feel like it's time to let others know my thoughts on it.


The Story

When an eccentric Professor brings his time machine to Crestview Elementary school for the Science Fair demonstration, six unsuspecting students are in for an adventure of a lifetime when they are accidentally sent back in time!

With side-splitting laughs, wild adventures, and character building lessons, this first ever audio drama from the Academy of Arts will keep every family member laughing and learning for years to come!

The production actually begins with an introduction from Nicky Chavers, the founder of The Academy of Arts. He originally created the character of Professor Boggs and was the first to play him. It is a nice introduction to the title character of the series and gives us some history on the series. However, it is not essential to hear. The story itself does a great job of giving the listener an introduction to the eccentric professor.

Early on, we are introduced to Professor Phineas T. Boggs and his assistant Tina. There's some great humor as contraptions in the laboratory cause some chaos. We are then introduced to Jake, a moody and hurting boy. Next, we hear Tess and Olivia, two sisters that do not get along. In the fourth scene, Michael and his family (including his young sister Bonnie) are welcoming Michael's best friend Chester who's visiting. 

These four scenes do a great job of letting the listener know who these characters are and what emotional baggage they take with them in the GOBAC Time Machine. In fact, it's not until almost the halfway mark in the run time that the characters actually go back in time. It may seem like it's a little slow in that regard, but it never feels like things are just dragging along. We are shown some great character moments and the conflicts that are going to be addressed within the time travel escapade. Some of the kids are dealing with some issues like absent parents and health problems. Their time with the time machine helps them confront those problems.

A lot of stories, even those from Adventures in Odyssey, sometimes focus too much on the trip back in time and not enough on character development very well. This story balances both of those things perfectly. Although the time travel part is fun, the real reason it happens is to address what the kids are going through.

Several messages are gleaned from this part of the Bible being explored. Because of their experience with seeing the story of Elijah (and an unexpected extra Bible story), all of them learn several lessons that helps each one with their own real-life struggles. I like how it was not just one lesson they learned. It speaks to how the Word of God is living and active. There is so much depth in Scripture that God has for us. I was also happy that one part of the Elijah story that is usually overlooked was dramatized in this production.

As the summary states, there is a lot of humor in this production. It's not over the top as the story itself is fairly grounded in reality. However, there are quite a few quips and funny situations found here. Some of them are found in the song lyrics as well. 

Some of my favorite funny moments are the kids freaking out about going back in time. Tess laments the lack of cell phone reception in ancient Israel and also has some run-ins with the unpredictable GOBAC Time Machine. The mentions about insurance and lawsuits relating to the time traveling is also funny. Professor Boggs also has a shuffle button on the machine that is humorously called out.

The story ends with a satisfying conclusion along with a small hint at future adventures.


The Acting

The casting was well done. Most everyone had a unique voice that was easy to distinguish who was who. There was one exception. It was difficult to tell the characters of Mrs. Lipscomb and Tina apart. The actresses for them sound really similar and also appear together in some of the same scenes.

To my understanding, many or all of the actors in this production have performed in The Academy of Arts stage plays in the past. Acting on stage is different than acting for an audio drama. Voice has a lot to do with it, but hand gestures and movement are as well. There were a few times where some actors seemed to be overacting or overemphasizing some emotions. That type of thing would work better in a stage play. With this possibly being the first time that the cast performed in an audio drama, overall, I think they do a good enough job of making the script come to life.

Jedidiah Johnson, voice of Chester
Photo credit: The Academy of Arts Facebook page
There were some standout performances by the cast that I wanted to mention here. Allison James as the Widow of Zarephath takes on that character very well. Jedidiah Johnson as the geeky Chester is a joy to listen to. You can tell the actor is having a lot of fun playing that role. Raekwon Bullock does a great job playing shy Michael and Anastasia Johnson has such a cute voice for Michael's little sister Bonnie. And of course, Noah Stratton as Professor Boggs is excellent. He makes for a great lead character. Stratton does a good job of sounding eccentric but also wise.


The Sound Design

The sound effects for when the GOBAC Time Machine starts and runs are amazing. I have heard many audio dramas that involve time travel and this one stands out on its own as being quite unique in the sounds for this plot device.

Overall, the soundscapes and foley were not super immersive but was enough to get the listener into the story. The levels for the voice tracks, music, and sound effects were good throughout. However, there is one scene where there is a lot of action going on where the music gets a bit too loud and makes it a little difficult to hear what was going on.

A standout scene in sound design is near the beginning where two girls are texting each other. Both girls are reading what they're typing including emojis. Their voices have some reverb added and the typing/sending sound effects of the phone are realistic. If I'm not mistaken, I think one character's voice was more in the left channel and the other in the right channel. I have never heard texting done like this before in an audio drama. This was very unique, and it works very well!  I could see other audio dramas set in modern times using this form to create scenes like this.

There were a couple of times where certain lines sounded different than others. A time or two it sounded like an actor was recording their lines in a different recording environment than the rest of the show. However, it is a rare occurrence and unless you're listening in headphones, you may not pick up on it.

With all that said, for being a first-time production by audio drama newbies, it is better than many other productions I've heard.


The Songs

I enjoy musicals a lot so I was looking forward to hearing how this one would be. There are five songs included in the story, all written by Dr. Nicky Chavers. 

  • The Inventor
  • Professor Phineas T. Boggs
  • God is the Same
  • The Final Walk
  • Elijah's Prayer

My favorite songs were "The Inventor" and "God is the Same." The first one got stuck in my head on more than one occasion. That's probably due to its catchiness. I also found the lyric about "send each other smiles" a fun nod toward emojis in modern culture. The second song is also quite memorable and has a great message. All the songs but "Professor Phineas T. Boggs" had a detailed orchestration. This song only had a piano track paired with the vocals. It works with the setting and adds to the playfulness of the lyrics. 

"The Final Walk" is also different as there are no sound effects or other voices that are mixed into the song. The other songs have those elements. This one seems a bit disjointed from the story. Even though it does a fine job of showing the widow's plight in song, it's probably my least favorite of the five songs.  "Elijah's Prayer" sets the prophet's prayer from I Kings to music, much like The Lord's Prayer song. It is similar to "The Final Walk" in style but is more engaging. I do have to say that the vocalists for the last two songs are amazing.  Kudos to Allison James (Widow of Zarephath) and Craig Stouffer (Elijah)! All of the songs serve the purpose of moving the story forward. For those wondering about the style of the music, I would say it's similar to many of the songs from Patch the Pirate.


The Music

For this production, I believe only stock music was used for the score. I am certain some music tracks were ones that were also used in the original Jonathan Park episodes. That's not a criticism because I am a fan of the music used in that series. I recognized some of the music in the preview I heard so that may have had some influence in my purchase of this audio drama.

I did have two issues with the music, however. For one, some music cues were used more than once. I think one was even used three times. Some more variety in music choices would have been nice. For another, there is one piece of music that seemed quite odd in one sequence. That part was meant to kind of be a montage and have a comedic feel to it. The music track used for it had some whistling in it. It pulled me out of the story for a little bit. I think the music chosen might have worked if the whistling was not in it. Especially with this being a musical, some listeners may wonder why it sounds like one of the characters is whistling in those scenes.

For the most part, using a music library works for this drama. I would say about 80% of the music was well chosen. There is some original music though. The song orchestrations were done by Glenn Christianson. Needless to say, the original music was the best.


The Final Verdict

Despite some minor flaws, there is a lot to like in this production. The title character and many of the kids are people that I hope to hear from again in the future. I know musicals can be hit or miss and I would say this one is the former. Not only are there some good songs, there's a great story here, too. There's also some fun and clever humor in it as well. The audio drama is nearly 2 hours long and is a fun experience throughout its runtime.

I would recommend this audio drama to all families. AIO's target demographic of 8 - 12 years old is probably a good one for Professor Boggs. However, I think teens and adults will enjoy this as well. Speaking as an adult, I am very much looking forward to the next Professor Boggs audio drama!


Purchase Elijah and the Famine from The Academy of Arts

CD | MP3



Austin Peachey is a die-hard reader and audio drama fan. He's run the Adventures in Odyssey Blog for over 12 years and has produced a few audio dramas of his own, including FaithFilled Stories. He's also helped work on the 2nd edition of The Official Guide to Odyssey and is a member of the Audio Drama Alliance.

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