New York City Theater
“Where there’s water there’s opportunity, and where’s there’s opportunity, there’s life,” says a character in “Tuck Everlasting,” the pleasant, mild, harmless musical based on Natalie Babbitt’s famous 1975 children’s book. Credit prolific director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw (“The Book of Mormon,” “Aladdin,” “Something Rotten”) for a wholesome evening that ends with a stunning ballet.
The basic story feeds into universal dreams of immortality, with the caveat that living forever can also be a life sentence. So discovers our heroine, 11-year-old Winnie Foster, whose father has just died and who finds herself “trapped in a house of sad and lonely.” Searching for adventure, she stumbles upon the isolated Tuck family whose blessing and curse is not being able to die, having drunk from a magic spring.
Left with nothing but time, the Tuck family (mom, dad, two sons) takes in Winnie, who is being searched for by her mother and grandmother. Understandably worried, the women enlist the help of a comic constable and his deputy, played by Fred Applegate and Michael Wartella, who stop the show with their hilarious “You Can’t Trust a Man.”
Also pursuing Winnie is the Man in the Yellow Suit, a huckster played with delicious ham by Terrence Mann. Not interested in Winnie, only in tracing her relationship with the immortal Tucks so he can bottle and sell the magic elixir, the Man adds spice to a musical that tries and succeeds its darndest to avoid ickiness.
There are important lessons here: don’t mess with the laws of nature; not growing old means not progressing; the value of moving on. The final lesson is, ”You don’t need to live forever: you just need to live.” Who can argue with that?
Claudia Shear and Tim Federle’s book, Chris Miller’s tuneful, Irish-flavored music and Nathan Tysen’s unpretentious lyrics avoid pietism. Walt Spangler’s set, Gregg Barnes’ costumes and Kenneth Posner’s warm lighting are in keeping with a show that tells a fanciful, rural tale.
Sarah Charles Lewis, the 11-year-old who plays 11-year-old Winnie is a real find, confident, even robust, determined, the center of attention yet willing to listen and learn. Surrounding her are the considerable talents of Carolee Carmello, Michael Park, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Robert Lenzi and Valerie Wright, with Pippa Pearthree as a feisty grandmother.
True, the dancing, other than the memorable ballet, is intrusive. The ensemble is constantly moving, as if to stop would be to invite rigor mortis. It’s both unnecessary and out of sync with a folksy work that, although not as immortal as its namesake family, is sweet and diverting.
--David A. Rosenberg
May 9, 2016