Tuck Everlasting Has Some Surprises in Store

For all the love and faith that I put into Broadway - and often times, against my better judgement - “thought-provoking” is one of those ambitions seldom attempted…and rarely achieved, for that matter. If I had to peg a form of theatre likely to earn such a distinction, it would be a play, new or revived.

Enter Tuck Everlasting, a musical inspired by Natalie Babbitt’s children novel now open at the Broadhurst Theatre, which has the audience following along from eleven-year-old Winnie Foster’s perspective just as she becomes intertwined with the Tuck family. One minor detail: the family is immortal after unknowingly drinking from a spring who’s water has that capability. Oh yes… a “family-friendly” musical with the recurring themes of immortality/life/death is an official thing.

I can’t really say I was enthusiastic showing up to Tuck Everlasting with a concern that such hard-hitting themes could be rendered in a schmaltzy, whimsey, pandering disposition because youths and tykes and market research and blah blah blah. Thankfully, and to my surprise, my pre-judgement was off...oh, there is schmaltz for years, but Tuck seems pretty upfront about what it is and seems content coloring within the lines sotospeak. And honestly, after being faced with several new musicals stubbornly trying to convince me they are something more than what they are (i.e Amazing Grace, Disaster!, American Psycho), I’ll take Tuck Everlasting and its modest, well-intentions.

While I always knew that Casey Nicholaw has loads of talent as a director/choreographer - and is one of the few choreographers who doesn’t make the dancing the focal point of a show, which is always appreciated - I always thought he lucked into having great material to start with (most notably, The Book of Mormon and Something Rotten!). With Tuck, he has considerably less to work with and yet he still manages to impress...

Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen’s music and lyrics aren’t bad, but they didn’t send me off to the Internet to add tracks to my iPod. Claudia Shear and Tim Federle’s book is on the stronger side in the sense it can stand on its own (and it is occasionally funny), but it also has its superfluous and iffy parts. Besides, most of the story's highlights are more of a reflection of Natalie Babbitt’s original text anyways.

But here is where Nicholaw’s direction excels - there is a full spectrum of earned pathos here. As Winnie and Jessie Tuck (the youngest son of the immortal family at age 17) are climbing through trees and getting their adventure on at a carnival (complete with a mindless, but fun dance break!), the overall aesthetic is charming and even exciting. As the audience is clued in on the Tuck family’s hardships - the fate of the older son’s family, the complacency between husband and wife, the growing divides between the family - the resulting effect is somber, but not too much of emotional whiplash. Prior to Tuck, I couldn't name a single one of Casey’s shows where I had any reaction other then SPECTACLE and LOLS FOR DAYS, let alone an emotional one.

Well okay, maybe Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon, where I welled up at bit at the end of "Sal Tlay Ka Siti.” I just smiled typing up that song title, because naturally. Full candor here, folks...

The most inspired part of the show and probably what I will remember for a long time (and yet another check plus in Casey Nicholaw’s favor) is the ending - a wordless, ballet/dance sequence illustrating Winnie’s life and all it encompasses. While I can acknowledge that Tuck Everlasting finally broke its mold and reached for something full-stop - and led me to ponder what could have been if that ambition was attempted throughout - it just so happens that the dance sequence (of all things) was stunningly beautiful and I may have shed some tears. Can’t cast a pall or side-eye at what worked, y’know...

A short list of other things I liked? Walt Spangler’s set design (THAT. TREE.) and Gregg Barnes costuming, where I wanted one of everything to add to my personal wardrobe. And while most of the performances were fine (if not exactly exemplary), Sarah Charles Lewis, who plays Winnie, effectively carries the show as the “lead.” I didn’t find her particular believable as an eleven-year-old - a little too “mature beyond her years” and she seemed too unfazed coming from her grim family background - but in terms of being charismatic and not being insufferable or precocious, she accomplished that much. Especially considering, y’know, youths...

Wow, I liked a show prominently featuring a youth that is (1) not Matilda or (2) not Young Allison/Sydney Lucas in Fun Home. The Apocalypse be comin’ y’all.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

1 comment:

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