Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting: The Musical

Broadhurst Theatre, NYC, April 30, 2016

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Andrew Keenan Bolger & Sarah Charles Lewis Photo: Joan Marcus
Andrew Keenan-Bolger & Sarah Charles Lewis
Photo: Joan Marcus

The fountain of youth is a tempting idea, but when you think about it, there are drawbacks.  So says Tuck Everlasting, a family-friendly fable of Americana that delivers a sincere, sentimental moral, although it takes a while to get there. This theme of immortality inspired a 1975 tween novel by Natalie Babbitt and a 2002 film by Disney. With a Claudia Shear/Tim Federle book and Chris Miller/Nathan Tysen’s score, Tuck Everlasting: The Musical has settled into the Broadhurst Theatre, hoping for a long run like Matilda next door.    

Tuck Everlasting’s fountain of youth bubbles from a spring in rural New Hampshire. About a hundred years earlier, the Tuck family stopped to refresh their thirst with this magical water and they became immortal. Now, in 1893, they live reclusively, having learned that mortal folks do not trust people who never age, get sick or die.

In her Broadway debut, 11-year-old Sarah Charles Lewis, bursting with stage presence, is a robust singer and portrays a plucky Winnie Foster. She lives with her conservative widowed mother (Valerie Wright) and a doting grandmother (Pippa Pearthree). Winnie, however, yearns to dress up, go to the fair and have fun. When her mother forbids her to go, Winnie runs off into the family’s woods. Coming across the spring, she is about to take a drink of water when, suddenly, 17-year old Jesse Tuck (played with cheery energy by Andrew Keenan-Bolger) steps in to stop her. Over the afternoon, they get to know each other. 

The plot is overstuffed, but skips along and it is late when Jesse’s family discovers the two in the woods. They decide to take Winnie home with them. She becomes captivated by the Tuck family: the nurturing mother, Mae, and father Angus (Carolee Carmello and Michael Park) and Jesse’s older brother Miles (Robert Lenzi).  They trust her enough to share the secret of the water, but convince her not to tell anyone. 

That night, the adventurous Winnie and Jesse run off to the fair where they confront a menacing Man in the Yellow Suit, played by Terrence Mann, hamming it up. He has spent years yearning for the financial possibilities of the magical water and finding the Tuck family.  Now the Tucks’ secret is in danger.

Meanwhile, the constable of the town and his deputy are searching for Winnie. Played by Fred Applegate with a sharp Yankee attitude, the constable is aided by his jittery deputy, Hugo (Michael Wartella). They deliver a humorous number, “You Can’t Trust a Man,” one of Miller’s catchy melodies with Tysen’s amusing lyrics, a hummable song that feels tossed in. Most of the Miller/Tysen  songs drive the story, like “Story of the Tucks,” Carmelo’s resonant “My Most Beautiful Day” and “Story of the Man in the Yellow Suit.” 

The entangled storyline skips lightly over life and death’s complications. Explanation finally comes when Angus Tuck takes Winnie fishing and the two discuss “The Wheel” of life. Angus says, “Don’t be afraid of death, Winnie. Be afraid of  not being truly alive. You don’t need to live forever, you just need to live.”

Walt Spangler’s country set is highlighted by a grandiose twisted tree, enhanced by Kenneth Posner’s lighting. Gregg Barnes designed authentic costumes of the early 1900s. Musical comedy’s great director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw (Aladdin, Something Rotten!) designed high leaping, acrobatic dancing, but the pace lapses with overdone frolicking in the woods. 

At the end, however, Nicholaw presents a beguiling ballet that ties up the musical’s message, a tuneful, gracefully danced story of birth, life, love and death, presenting the message with purely musical enchantment. Life is, after all, “A circle in motion/can’t stop rowing, growing, changing, then moving on.”

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for Theatre.com and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.