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A CurtainUp Review
Tuck Everlasting
By Charles Wright

Everything's a wheel, turning and turning, never stopping. The frogs is part of it, and the bugs, and the fish, and the wood thrush, too. And people. But never the same ones. Always coming in new, always growing and changing, and always moving on. That's the way it's supposed to be. That's the way it is.
— paterfamilias Angus Tuck explaining the nature of life to the little girl, Winnie Foster, in Natalie Babbitt's 1975 novel Tuck Everlasting.
Tuck Everlasting
Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Jesse Tuck and Sarah Charles Lewis as Winnie Foster (Photo: Joan Marcus)
The Tuck family has located the fountain of youth. That turns out to be bad news for the Tucks but an opportunity for theater-goers seeking wholesome fare on Broadway.

The Tucks — parents and two sons — are characters in Natalie Babbitt's young-adult novel Tuck Everlasting, a perennial on middle-school reading lists since its publication in 1975. Now Tuck Everlasting is a Broadway musical, with book by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, music by Chris Miller, and lyrics by Nathan Tysen.

Babbitt's bittersweet novel is noteworthy for tackling the grown-up theme of mortality in a way that's age-appropriate for pre-teens. The authors of the musical have retold the story in the heartfelt style of musical theater's golden age. The result is endearing family entertainment.

Broadway veterans Carolee Carmello and Michael Park are the elder Tucks who, with their sons Jesse (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) and Miles (Robert Lenzi), have been rendered immune to aging, injury, illness, and death by drinking enchanted water from a hidden spring near the New Hampshire village of Treetop. Constantly on guard against revealing their difference to ordinary mortals, they've become outcasts, moving constantly to elude detection, never forming bonds in the communities through which they pass.

The plot takes off when the Tucks revisit the spring decades after being transformed by its water and encounter eleven-year-old Winnie (Sarah Charles Lewis) whose family owns the property.

Winnie endears herself to the family and develops a colossal crush on Jesse. But the Tucks are in a quandary as to how to deal with her when she discerns their secret. And Winnie, who doesn't grasp initially how unhappy the Tucks are living outside nature's order, must decide whether to join the Tucks by drinking from the spring or remain as she is.

Tuck Everlasting is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, the master-craftsman whose current Broadway credits include The Book of Mormon, Aladdin, and Something Rotten. This new show is gentler, less tongue-in-cheek, than those other Nicholaw projects; but that's not to say it lacks humor or high spirits.

Treetop, as brought to life by designers Walt Spangler (sets), Kenneth Posner (lighting) and Gregg Barnes (costumes) is a small-town universe reminiscent of The Music Man. The authors and designers have enhanced the proceedings with an itinerant fair (not in Babbitt's novel) that brings to mind Carousel and Carnival.

The musical keeps faith with Babbitt's low-key treatment of the magical elements in her plot. Instead of conjuring special effects, the designers rely on a sort of Brigadoon-ish charm to convey the presence of supernatural forces. And Nicholaw has created a final dance sequence about growing up and growing old that evokes the tone and temper of Agnes de Mille's second-act ballet in Carousel, as well as the rational earthiness that Rodgers and Hammerstein introduced to musical theater.

Shear and Federle have preserved what's most poignant in Babbitt's novel, avoiding (at least for the most part) anything maudlin. Tysen's lyrics are admirably crafted; Miller's melodies have a post-war Broadway sound with occasional Sondheim-ish inflections (a combination that's engaging). But it's the cast and second-act choreography that make Tuck Everlasting worth a visit.

Keenan-Bolger and Lenzi are well cast as the Tuck boys. The parents, Carmello and Park, perform the score with vocal distinction but they lack chemistry.

Lewis, a newcomer, is an eleven-year-old with a powerhouse voice and stage presence reminiscent of Andrea McArdle in Annie. Terrence Mann, as the Man in the Yellow Suit, is a broadly comic villain, but his connection to the Tucks' drama is not as quickly or clearly explicated as it should be.

The authors have added a subplot involving the relationship of the local constable (Fred Applegate) and his fledgling deputy (Michael Wartella). The deputy is not part of the novel; and the subplot, which seems borrowed from the Dogberry scenes in Much Ado About Nothing, is superfluous.

Despite its flaws, Tuck Everlasting has a strong, touching second act; and Nicholaw brings the story home in his life-affirming ballet. With its de Mille flavor and wheel-of-life message (thematically akin to the powerful opening of The Lion King), this sequence depicts the joys and sorrows in store for Winnie if she chooses not to drink from the spring.

Babbitt uses the Tucks, miserably alienated by their immortal state, to put death in perspective for young readers. As Nicholaw's ensemble dances through the seasons of Winnie's on-going mortality, Babbitt's principal theme finally comes into focus on stage. As Father Tuck says in the novel: "Always coming in new, always growing and changing, and always moving on. That's the way [life's] supposed to be.

Tuck Everlasting
Book by Claudia Shear, based on book by Natalie Babbitt
Music by Chris Miller, lyrics by Nathan Tyson
Director/Choreographer: Casey Nicholaw
Cast: Sarah Charles Lewis (Winnie Foster), Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Jesse Tuck), Michael Park (Angus Tuck), Carolee Carmello (Mae Tuck), Terrence Mann (Man In Yellow Suit), Robert Lenzi (Miles Tuck, Shannon Eubanks, Fred Applegate (Constable Joe), Michael Wartella (Hugo), Pippa Pearthree (Nana), Valerie Wright (Mother)
Ensemble: Timothy J. Alex, Marcus Bellamy,Jonathan Burke,Chloe Campbell,Ben Cook, Deanna Doyle, Brandon Espinoza, Lisa Gajda,Jessica Lee Goldyn,Neil Haskell, Justin Patterson, Marco Schittone,Jennifer Smith, Kathy Voytko
Sets: walt Spangler
Costumes: Gregg Barnes
Lighting: Kenneth Posner
Sound:Brian Ronan
Hair Design: Josh Marquette
Makeup Design: Milagros Medina-Cerdeira
Production Stage Manager: Holly Coombs
Stage Manager: McKenzie Murphy
Running Time: 2 hours plus one 15-minute intermission
Broadhurst Theatre 235 W 44th St
From 3/31/16; opening 4/26/16.
Closed 5/29/16
Reviewed by Charles Wright at 4/22/16 press preview
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Live Like This
  • Good Girl Winnie Foster
  • Join the Parade
  • Good Girl Winnie Foster (Reprise)
  • Top of the World
  • Hugo's First Case
  • Story of the Tucks
  • Live to Tell the Tale
  • My Most Beautiful Day
  • Join the Parade (Reprise)
  • Partner in Crime
  • Seventeen
Act Two
  • Everything's Golden
  • Seventeen (Reprise)
  • Time
  • Everything's Golden (Reprise)
  • You Can't Trust a Man
  • The Wheel
  • Story of the Man in the Yellow
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