CEDAR HILLS — There are few things I love more than an outdoor play or musical. I find it very relaxing to settle down on my blanket and breathe in the fresh air while watching a story play out on the stage. This is the experience Creekside Theatre Fest is offering its audience as part of this year’s season with their staging of the musical Tuck Everlasting at Heritage Park Amphitheater.
Based on the novel by Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting has music by Chris Miller, lyrics by Nathan Tysen, and a book by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle. It, unfortunately, had a short run on Broadway (and the show has its flaws), but Creekside director Erin Martin has taken this show and injected it with loads of heart and energy to make it definitely worth a watch.
Tuck Everlasting tells the story of a little girl named Winnie who stumbles upon the Tuck family, who unknowingly drank from a special spring and became immortal. Winnie becomes particularly attached to son Jesse (played by Jordan Bennion), but the whole family is appealing to her. Winnie’s father has recently passed the year before, and so the idea of immortality at first seems like a great idea. But the family knows it can feel like a prison sentence at the same time. The Tucks have an existence in which they are never able to finish anything and never able to progress, and that has its cost.
In many ways, the outdoor venue is a perfect fit for this show. In Tuck Everlasting, Winnie (played by Libby Gardner) finds the Tuck family in the woods, and so it is like the stage is part of her journey of self-discovery.
Tuck Everlasting is one of those shows where they seemed to have saved most of the great songs for the second act. There was not much that was memorable in the first act, but I was impressed with pianist Zach Hansen who accompanies the production, as well as the sound design by Jake Allen. (Microphones can be tricky to deal with in an outdoor setting, but I could hear everything that was happening on stage.) The first act’s highlight is “Top of the World,” sung by Jesse and Winnie as they climb trees together. The relationship between Jesse and Winnie is sweet, but it is also a little strange. Jesse, after all, is 102 years old in reality, and he sets up a life for him and Winnie at 17 (even a song called “Seventeen”) when she is just 11. It feels weird to have a grown man making plans to wait for an 11-year-old to turn 17 and then marry her.
The nemesis of Tuck Everlasting is “Man in the Yellow Suit.” He is a carnival barker of sorts and is determined to find out the mystery of the spring with the goal of bottling it to sell. Jordan Long brings a lot of villainous energy to the role, especially with his songs “Story of the Man in the Yellow Suit” and “Everything’s Golden.” There is also a song from Constable Joe (played by Bevan Car) and Hugo (played by Trevin Peck) as they hunt for him, called “You Can’t Trust a Man.”
I love when families are involved and in this production of Tuck Everlasting, Libby Gardner’s mother, Christie Gardiner, plays matriarch Mae Tuck. This provides an obvious chemistry between Winnie and Mae that spreads throughout the entire cast. I also really enjoyed the chemistry between Winnie and the father in the Tuck family, Angus (played by Alex Glover). Angus does not get a chance to be a father to a girl often, and when Winnie is great at catching fish, he can be a father figure in a wonderful song together called “The Wheel.”
To my surprise, however, the highlight of Tuck Everlasting has no singing at all. It is a ballet sequence called “The Story of Winnie Foster.” With choreography by Meg Flinders, the audience sees Winnie’s choice at age 17 and how her life plays out through dance. It is a beautiful dance sequence. The older Winnie is played by Joleah Long who is fantastic at using dance to evoke emotion and life experiences.
The sets and props are simple in this production and the costumes by Katrina Dekarver create a convincing old-fashioned feel. Thanks to Dekarver, the creek and nature surrounding the amphitheater become part of the show, which helped me become very immersed in the story. How brilliant it is to have a show about a magical spring be performed in front of a flowing creek. Very clever.
Tuck Everlasting is a great activity for the entire family. The songs can be a bit bland and the relationship has its weird moments, but the show has a big heart and at its core is a story about family and what makes for a worthy life. It is definitely worth the time to head up to Cedar Hills and spend some time with the Tuck family.