[Ben Phelps looks at a crane]
Works > For the Stage > The Mysterious Adventures of Johnny Crumb

The Mysterious Adventures of Johnny Crumb

Story, music, and verse by Ben Phelps   

Available on Ben Phelps - Music for the Rogues

[Johnny Crumb in his forest]

Once upon a time,
      or rather not long ago,
In a land far away,
      or maybe not far from here,
There lives an odd little boy maybe some of you know.

Johnny Crumb has a story, as most of us do,
though his is more odd than most of us knew,
For while most kids his age spent their time out playing with toys,
      imagining pretend things,
            or making too much noise,

Johnny Crumb’s idea of fun was to spend much of his time hiding under his bed.

Other people could still do their doings,
                  he said,
They could still go where they go,
But he’d spend his time hiding, just trying
      as best he could,
            to be all alone.

The Mysterious Adventures of Johnny Crumb is still very much a work in progress, though it has had several performances in various incarnations. It is intended to be a genre bending theater piece in one act, for mature children and adults, in the vein of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat meets Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. The piece is composed for a unique ensemble: quintet [flute (= alt. flt, pic), oboe (= english horn), percussion, piano (= celeste, synthesizer), string bass], narrator(s), and mute puppets and actors.

I hope to devise a final version that can performed in multiple formats, for practical reasons: the full version, which can also be performed in concert with a narrator but without the staged elements, and a purely instrumental suite. I often find myself attempting to do things that it seems other contemporary composers don't, or won't: not since the 1950s has a major composer successfully attempted to write serious music for children. In older generations, many did- Ravel, Prokofiev, Britten, Bartok. Of course, I don't know if mine is successful, and I'm not a major composer, but this doesn't keep me from trying.


Johnny Crumb is a young boy who just wants to be left alone, but it seems that he is always having to do things: get up, go to school, play with friends, go to soccer practice. He decides to escape this mundaneness of activity to hide in a deserted forest he finds exists under his bed.

But just as Johnny is achieving sublime lonely bliss in his forest, two creatures show up (a Wonkit and a Gronkit), who proceed to compete for his friendship by giving Johnny increasingly fantastical gifts. The Wonkit and Gronkit call on their kingdoms to come forth and each present him with gifts greater than the other species. Just as Johnny is begining to come around to the idea, the competition escalates into full-fledged warfare.

Johnny is left alone on the battlefield. He decides that maybe his real life wasn't that bad afterall. He leaves the forest and decides to give playing with his friends another go.

Premiered April 2005 with the Definiens Project. Produced at the Son of Semole Theater in Los Angeles by the Rogue Artist’s Ensemble, August 2005.


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[The Wonkit]

The Wonkit

[A day in the life of Johnny Crumb]

A Day in the Life of Johnny Crumb

[The Gronkit]

The Gronkit