Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: Tuck Everlasting

Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Jesse Tuck and Sarah Charles Lewis Photo: Joan Marcus
Children’s Book Comes to Life, but Show Might Not Enjoy Immortality
By Lauren Yarger
Step into magical woods where time stands still, life springs eternal and a beloved children’s book comes to life.

Tuck Everlasting gets a Broadway incarnation with music and lyrics by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen (who teamed for The Burnt Part Boys) and a book by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle based on the novel by Natalie Babbitt.

Massive ancient branches bring green foliage – and enchantment -- of the woods into the tiny village of Treegap, NH (Scenic design by Walt Spangler) where Winnie Foster (Sarah Charles Lewis) feels stifled living with her mother (Valerie Wright) and Nana (an amusing Pippa Pearthree) following the death of her father. The 11-year-old misses her dad, but longs for excitement.

Wandering in the woods, where mysterious music plays, she stumbles upon Jess Tuck (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) who is very alarmed when he realizes the girl has seen him drinking from a secret stream. Jesse, his brother, Miles (Robert Lenzi) and their mother, Mae (Carolee Carmello) bring her to their home hidden in the woods and explain that the spring gives them eternal life. While staying with the Tucks, Winnie awakens a zest for life in the family’s patriarch Angus (Michael Park) and in Miles, who is bitter about losing his wife and son and sparks a romance with Jesse who hopes she will drink from the stream when she is a bit older and they can begin a relationship.

Winnie’s disappearance causes some alarm for her mother and grandmother, however, and Constable Joe (Fred Applegate, giving a nice turn and adding some needed humor) and his newbie, bumbling assistant, Hugo (Michael Wartella) begin an investigation. Complicating things, however, is the arrival of a carnival conman known as the Man in a Yellow Suit (Terrence Mann) who has long sought the secrets of the Ticks’ stream. He blackmails Winnie’s family into selling him the land where the stream runs and threatens the Tucks when he plans to make the stream a commercial enterprise.

Casey Nicholaw (Something Rotten!, Aladdin, The Book of Mormon) directs and choreographs the entertaining, if not too complex, tale. Standing out is Charles Lewis, with a singing voice so developed and clear that I checked the program to make sure that wasn’t Sidney Lucas up there in a red wig (Hair design by Josh Marquette) only to discover that the young actress was making her Broadway debut. It’s an impressive one.

Also starring in this production is Spangler’s set, expertly lighted by Kenneth Posner. Whether we’re in the Tucks’ quaint, old-fashioned cottage, seeing the wind blow through flowers (as painted on a backdrop) or climbing a tree in the woods, the enchantment of the story carries through. While some of the choreography throughout the show seems awkward and out of place, a final closing piece almost like a ballet that shows the progression of years throughout Winnie’s life is moving and leaves an impression about the importance of living life to the fullest.

The plot isn’t very enchanting on its own, however. If you are a fan of Babbitt’s 1975 novel, you are probably on board with it, but if you are like me, and somehow never read the book, you will be asking a lot of questions like “Do the Tucks really need to painfully separate and reunite only once every 10 years to avoid arousing suspicion about their longevity?” “If they are so concerned about detection why do they keep playing that music box?” “Why exactly has Angus been in a funk on the couch for 10 years?” “How was the Man in the Yellow Suit able to piece together that there is a stream offering eternal life back there in the woods?” “Why don’t Winnie’s mother and grandmother just tell Joe they are in trouble?” “A 17 year old really asks an 11 year old to wait for him?”

OK, maybe taking this “Brigadoon for kids” too seriously is a mistake. Miller’s score is pleasant, but not memorable (the opening number could use some work as it lacks an excitement despite a big finish). Mary-Mitchell Campbell music directs and supervises with Rob Berman. Orchestrations are by John Clancy with Vocal Arrangements by Chris Miller and Dance Music Arrangements by David Chase. But Broadway vets Carmello, Mann and Park give the show some oomph (and there’s Charles Lewis’ voice, even if I can’t remember anything she sang.) The uplifting message about not wasting life is a plus. Mae sings:

“Time we’ve been granted so much time
But what if all this time
Did more than pass us by?
Life even infinite
Still must have life in it
We know it won’t kill us to try.”

Another plus: the  musical is mostly family-friendly – a decreasing commodity on the Great White Way these days. Tuck failed to impress Tony Award Nominators, however. It received only one nod: Costumes designed Gregg Barnes. That plus slow sales at the box office might mean the show won't enjoy the same long life as the Tucks.

Catch it while you can at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44thSt., NYC. Performances are  Showtimes Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm, Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Additional show 7:30 pm May 29. Tickets are $59-$147: tuckeverlastingmusical.com; 212-239-6200.

Additional casting:
Timothy J. Alex, Marcus Bellamy, Callie Carter, Chloë Campbell, Benjamin Cook, Elizabeth Margaret Crawford, Deanna Doyle, Brandon Espinoza, Lisa Gajda, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Christopher Gurr, Neil Haskell, Matt Meigs, Heather Parcells, Justin Patterson, Marco Schittone, Brooklyn Shuck, Jennifer Smith, and Kathy Voytko.... Ensemble

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:-- God's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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