The problem with the new show with a libretto by first timers Claudia Shear and Tim Federle now at the Broadhurst Theatre is that it is all so bland – which is not true of the novel which had grit as well as many surprises. The new prologue pretty much gives away the secret of the Tuck family’s discovery of the fountain of youth. The score by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen (who wrote the Off Broadway musical The Burnt Part Boys) is pleasant but innocuous. Director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw who currently has the more flashy Book of Mormon, Aladdin and Something Rotten! simultaneously running on Broadway has created a low-key production, atypical of his usual style, which seems a bit lost on the big Broadway stage. This might have worked better in a smaller Off Broadway house.
For those who did not grow up with the book published in 1975, the story set in 1881 rural Treegap, New Hampshire, concerns 11-year-old friendless Winnie Foster whose widowed mother refuses to let her play or even go past the front gate of their mansion. When she is refused permission to go to the fair which has arrived in town (since a full year has not passed since her father’s death), she decides to run away to the woods owned by her family. There she suddenly comes across “seventeen” year old Jesse Tuck drinking at a spring under a huge tree.
When he stops her from drinking, she becomes incensed to be forbidden in her own forest. However, when his frightened mother Mae and brother Miles come along shortly after, she finds herself kidnapped to their shack in the woods in order to stop her from remaining eleven. Drinking from this fountain gives you eternal youth but you remain whatever age you are when you taste its waters. Mae’s husband Angus is given the job of explaining the cycle of life to Winnie who by now has been attracted to Jesse – who is really two generations older than he looks. In the meantime, The Man in the Yellow Suit, who has been searching for the Tucks and their magical spring, has come to town and is hot on their trail.
The libretto sticks closely to the book with three exceptions: a prologue set in 1804 reveals the Tucks drinking from the spring so that the next time we see them, we realize they have not aged. One improvement over the novel is the explanation for the arrival of the Man in the Yellow Suit as well as his unusual clothes: here he is the barker in the Carnival that arrives with the fair. Near the end of the show, there is an impressive and elaborate ballet recounting Winnie’s life in the years following. Nicholaw’s short-hand choreography for the passage of time owes a great deal to Agnes de Mille’s ballets for Oklahoma and Carousel. While the songs are pleasant enough, only “Time” sung by older brother Miles Tuck about the sacrifices he has undergone has the emotional heft for a real winner.
The talented cast varies in success based on the depths of their roles as written in the libretto which often flattens their counterparts from the original novel. Sarah Charles Lewis who is really 11 years old is charming as Winnie but fails to make the part her own. As a kind of Tom Sawyer character, Andrew Keenan-Bolger is personable as the adventurous Jesse Tuck who wants to see the world but lacks a traveling companion. Best are Pippa Pearthree as Winnie’s feisty and fun-loving grandmother who steals every one of the short scenes she is in, and Michael Park who brings a great deal of virility and vulnerability to the role of Angus Tuck. Carolee Carmello does much with Mae Tuck in an underwritten role, while Valerie Wright is one dimensional as Winnie’s prim and proper Mother.
As the Man in the Yellow Suit, Terrence Mann makes the most of his opportunities as the oily villain but is hampered by not being given much of a backstory. Fred Applegate is amusing as the bumbling Constable Joe given the job of finding Winnie after she runs away from home, while Michael Wartella as his 15-year-old son Hugo, an apprentice detective, is quite engaging as a young man of clever ideas. Although Robert Lenzi gets to sing the show’s best song, his Miles only comes across as an angry young man.
The stylized sets by Walt Spangler are attractive but seem at odds with the allegorical material. Gregg Barnes’ costumes are quite conventional except for the very colorful Carnival sequence. The sound design by Brian Ronan often makes it difficult to understand the lyrics, while placing the orchestra under the stage gives it a tinny sound. In Nicholaw’s extensive choreography, the large versatile dance chorus is woven into most of the scenes as either ghosts from the past or present day characters.
The Broadway version of the young adult modern classic, Tuck Everlasting, is a colorful family entertainment suitable for all ages. Considering its theme, however, it could have been much more. Nonetheless, the game cast puts their all into the singing, dancing and storytelling.
Tuck Everlasting The Musical (open run)
Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.tuckeverlastingmusical.com
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission