Theater Review: ‘Tuck Everlasting’

May 11, 2016 1:57 pm Last Updated: May 11, 2016 1:57 pm

NEW YORK—How long you live is not nearly as important as how you live. It’s a lesson bewitchingly presented in the delightful family musical “Tuck Everlasting,” now at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway.

Winnie Foster (Sarah Charles Lewis), 11-years-old, is a resident of Treegap, New Hampshire, circa 1894. She lives with her mother (Valerie Wright) and grandmother (Pippa Pearthree) near a wooded area, which she is forbidden to enter. 

Her mother is in mourning over the death of her husband and insists the family act completely proper during this period. This includes forbidding Winnie to go to the annual fair, a collection of carnival games, exhibitions, and somewhat unsavory types who come to the town each year.

At the center of ‘Tuck Everlasting’ is the message one must never stop growing.

Chafing at always being forced to be the good girl, Winnie sneaks away from home and enters the nearby woods where she meets Jesse Tuck (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), a 17-year-old boy drinking from a spring. She’s about to take a drink herself when Jesse stops her.

As Winnie soon learns, Jesse, his older brother Miles (Robert Lenzi), and their parents, Angus (Michael Park) and Mae (Carolee Carmello), are immortal. Eighty-five years earlier, they were traveling through these woods and stopped to drink from the spring, which granted them eternal life.

Though Winnie thinks living forever is wonderful, as it offers a chance for endless adventures, the Tucks don’t see it that way. As the years passed with no change in their appearance, they had to go into hiding long ago. They were viewed by their neighbors with suspicion and hatred. Some thought they were servants of the devil. Others believed they had found the Fountain of Youth.

The Man in the Yellow Suit (Terrence Mann), a member of the carnival troupe, thinks so. As a child he heard stories about the Tucks and is determined to uncover their secret, making a handsome profit in the process.

(L–R) The Man in the Yellow Suit (Terrence Mann) eavesdrops on Jesse Tuck (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) and Winnie Foster (Sarah Charles Lewis), as he hopes to find the secret of immortality. (Joan Marcus)
(L–R) The Man in the Yellow Suit (Terrence Mann) eavesdrops on Jesse Tuck (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) and Winnie Foster (Sarah Charles Lewis), as he hopes to find the secret of immortality. (Joan Marcus)

At the center of “Tuck Everlasting” is the message one must never stop growing or learning about the world and those around you. These are lessons the Tucks have long forgotten—except for Jesse who, at the age of 102, still remembers the simple joy of climbing a tree.

Angus and Mae however, who were once passionately in love, have fallen into a deep routine of familiarity and are simply going through the motions of living. Even the Man in the Yellow Suit is trapped in this prison to some degree. He has spent his entire life on a quest to find the Tucks with little to show for it thus far.

It takes the appearance of Winnie, someone ironically wanting to grow up too fast, to reintroduce the Tucks to the joy of living—despite the potential dangers to be encountered when they start opening up to new possibilities. These dangers include going to a carnival, or, in the case of Miles, remembering painful unfinished business from his past.

Sarah Charles Lewis, making her Broadway debut, simply shines as Winnie.

At the same time, Winnie also becomes Jesse’s hope for the future. Falling in love with her, he gives her a bottle of water from the spring to drink when she turns 17. Then, they can always be together.

Definitely one of the better constructed musicals of the season, the creative elements all come together to present a story that’s both heartwarming and fulfilling. The children in the audience the day this writer saw the show were completely spellbound.

A particular highlight is an extended sequence told through music and dance with no dialogue whatsoever, yet it speaks volumes in terms of showing events over the passage of time.

(Standing, L–R) Jesse Tuck (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), Miles (Robert Lenzi), and (sitting, L–R) Winnie Foster (Sarah Charles Lewis) and Mae Tuck (Carolee Carmello).
(Standing, L–R) Jesse Tuck (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) and Miles (Robert Lenzi). (Sitting, L–R) Winnie Foster (Sarah Charles Lewis) and Mae Tuck (Carolee Carmello). (Joan Marcus)

Good work from director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, as well as scenic designer Walt Spangler and the rest of the design team, who are able to perfectly set the tone for the show. The creative elements present an atmosphere ranging from the quiet safety of home to the more mysterious, magical, and sometimes ominous.

Lewis, making her Broadway debut, simply shines as Winnie. She desperately wants to run away from the restrictions she feels are strangling her, but in the end realizes, as others have in the past, “there’s no place like home.” 

Lewis also possesses a strong singing voice, as shown in such numbers as “Good Girl Winnie Foster.”

Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Jesse Tuck and Sarah Charles Lewis as Winnie Foster and the cast in the beautiful forest that has the spring of eternal life. (Joan Marcus)
Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Jesse Tuck, Sarah Charles Lewis as Winnie Foster, and the cast in the beautiful forest that has the spring of eternal life. (Joan Marcus)

Carmello is very good as Mae, showing her great delight at having in Winnie a female friend with whom she’s able to talk. Park, Keenan-Bolger, and Lenzi all do well as the male members of the Tuck clan. Each bond with Winnie in his own way: as a father, potential soul mate, and friend, respectively.

As the Man in the Yellow Suit, Mann creates a character we like to hiss, though it would have been nice if the character’s past and connection to the Tucks had been more deeply explored.

Based on the best-selling novel by Natalie Babbitt, the musical’s book is by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, the music by Chris Miller, and the lyrics by Nathan Tysen.

As a lovely tale about the joys and dangers that come with being alive, “Tuck Everlasting” makes for a very refreshing experience.

Also in the cast are Michael Wartella, Fred Applegate, Timothy J. Alex, Chloë Campbell, Ben Cook, Deanna Doyle, Brandon Espinoza, Lisa Gajda, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Neil Haskell, Justin Patterson, Marco Schittone, Jennifer Smith, Kathy Voytko, and Sharrod Williams.

‘Tuck Everlasting’
Broadhurst Theatre
235 W. 44th St.
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or Telecharge.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission)
Open Run

Judd Hollander is a member of the drama desk and reviewer of stagebuzz.com