Note: Because of the precautions due to the coronavirus, the last four performances of Tuck Everlasting are now scheduled for April 23-27 and 27.
SMITHFIELD — Tuck Everlasting is a stage musical based on the 1975 children’s novel of the same name. Written by Natalie Babbitt, the book has been standard middle school reading ever since. It is a new musical, having opened and closed on Broadway in 2016, with book by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, score by Chris Miller, and lyrics by Nathan Tysen. While the structure of the play feels formulaic to an adult, the production mounted by Four Seasons Theatre Company is one of the best examples I have seen of a play perfect for introducing younger audiences to high-quality musical theatre experience.
The show is set in Treegap, New Hampshire, in 1893, where Winnie Foster lives with her mother and grandmother since her father passed away. Winnie (played by Kayli Checketts on opening night) is tired of being a “good girl” and staying at home all the time. She decides to run away to see the fair and, on the way, meets Jesse Tuck (played by Logan Kelley), who is drinking from a spring in the woods. Jesse refuses to let her drink from the spring, and Winnie quickly learns that Jesse and his family are immortal because of the spring’s magical powers. Having found out the secret, the Tucks decide they must kidnap Winnie while they figure out what to do. But the story becomes complicated when Jesse develops feelings for Winnie and helps her sneak out of the attic so they can go to the fair together.
At just over a hundred years old, Jesse is lonely and longs for a companion to share in eternity. I enjoyed Kelley’s portrayal of Jesse as being quick to smile and a little goofy. Most lonely immortals seeking companions are full of angst and self-loathing (*cough* Twilight), but Jesse comes across as genuine and sweet when he asks Winnie to drink from the spring in six years when they are the same age.
Jesse’s parents, Mae (played by Melissa Hamilton) and Angus (played by Trenton Bateman) are also tired of immortality, but find purpose again through spending their time with Winnie and reflecting on the important moments in life. One of my favorite moments of the show came from Jesse’s older brother Miles (played by Kyle Pyfer) as he sings about how he taught his son Thomas to tell time, but ended up losing his son when his wife realized that he wasn’t aging and took him away. The idea of loss is visited over and over, but Miles’ song “Time” was beautifully done.
Of course, there must be a villain, and in this story, that is The Man in the Yellow Suit, played by Clifton Richards. As played by Richards, The Man in the Yellow Suit is a greasy carnie who has rolled into town with the fair and is desperate to find the secret of eternal life. Comic relief is provided by Constable Joe (played by Ben Hall) and his deputy/son Hugo (played by Jaeden Tueller), as they explain why you can never trust a man in a yellow suit. Hall and Tueller have great comedic timing, and Tueller plays young Hugo as being delightfully awkward.
Each actor in Tuck Everlasting has a remarkable singing voice. The harmony and blend throughout all the big ensemble pieces is delightful. Director Jon Rash has designed a very smooth and cohesive show which flows effortlessly from scene to scene. I particularly loved the set design by Danny Rash and Nathan Allen, which used a lot of wagon pieces to give just the right amount of surreal framing to the scene. By showing all of the Tucks’ areas to be brown and old, the set conveys the idea of a stagnant existence. By contrast, Winnie’s home is bright white and covered in flowers. This gave it a feel of perfection and being idyllic, even though—or perhaps because of the fact—it is a house in mourning for Winnie’s father.
The absolute highlight of the play comes at the end with a long ballet sequence in which the ensemble show what Winnie ultimately decides when offered the chance to drink the water and be immortal, or to live a regular life. I found myself wiping away tears at the powerful storytelling through movement choreographed by Kelly Bateman, AnnAlyse Chidester, and Melisa Jensen.
While some of the elements to the story are predictable, I enjoyed this production of Tuck Everlasting immensely. Knowing it was a musical based on a children’s book, I brought my nine-year-old daughter as my date, and seeing the bright glow in her eyes was wonderful. On the ride home, we were able to have thoughtful discussions about the “The Wheel” of life as discussed in the show and what we would do if given the offer to become immortal. I wholeheartedly recommend this play for young audiences and families. The story is simple, the music is excellently performed, and the whole evening is left with a feeling of being touched by a bit of magic.