Saturday, May 14, 2016

Review of "Tuck Everlasting"

The new musical, Tuck Everlasting, is a pleasing production with a first-rate cast, engaging score, and whimsical story.  Based on the 1975 international best-selling children’s book, the show is one of the true family-oriented musicals currently on Broadway.  As with the book it tackles more mature and universal themes as mortality, family, and loyalty.  For the show to succeed on Broadway, however, it will have to tap into the family market.  Without that demographic, as well as those that treasure the book, Tuck Everlasting won’t last long in New York City.

What elevates the musical is the superb performance of the 11-year-old star Sarah Charles Lewis as Winnie, a girl seeking adventure from her constricting home life.  She is spunky, venturesome, and an enterprising lass that anchors the production.  While exploring the forest behind her home she discovers a young lad, part of a family of immortal beings.  They soon become friends and make a pact to stay together forever.  However, Winnie’s discovery of the clan’s history jeopardizes their lives and very existence as a traveling circus barker seeks to exploit their long held secret.  In the end, an imaginative resolution is reached, which includes a poignant and dreamy sequence that comes to terms with the fanciful plot.

The cast, as mentioned earlier, features a very poised Sarah Charles Lewis.  A fiery redhead, she is supremely confident with a self-assured stage presence and mature voice.  Andrew Keenan-Bolger as her teenage friend Jesse Tuck is impish and cocksure.  He brings friskiness to the production when it teeters towards seriousness.  Carolee Carmello brings a convincing world-weariness to her role and endows her character with familial compassion and protectiveness.  Michael Park is laid back and slightly goofy as her husband Angus.  As a devious carnival employee Terence Mann is wonderfully shifty and underhanded.  Fred Applegate and Michael Wartella as a father and son detective team add a winning comic touch whenever they enter a scene.

Book writers Claudia Shear and Tim Federle maintain a brisk pacing as the action shifts between the two main set pieces of the forest and the ramshackle Tuck household.  Their focus on the two central characters of Winnie and Jesse keeps the whole production at a spirited and mischievous level.  There is a degree of sophistication to the tale with an overall tinge of youthful innocence.  While appealing to tweens and teens adults will also find the show entertaining and charming,

The score by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen splendidly mirrors the exuberance and somewhat edgy nature of the show.  There are soaring ballads and good-natured production numbers, which convey a mirthful vivaciousness. 

Director Casey Nicholaw, a busy director/choreographer with four musicals now playing on Broadway, gives the show a playfulness, albeit one with a consequential edge.  The youthful vigor of the book, along with its serious overtones, is agreeably brought forth throughout the production. Rousing, energetic dance numbers are mixed in with stylish pieces by the forest denizens and the show’s ensemble.  The beautifully rendered finale is one of the most graceful and wonderful scenes on a Broadway musical stage.

The set design by Walt Spangler, with an oversized, graceful tree as its centerpiece, parallels the beguiling tale.

Tuck Everlasting, one of the more refreshing musicals to open this Broadway season.

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