Broadway's 'Tuck Everlasting:' Sweet Family Fare
With “Matilda” exiting Broadway in January, there’s a new singing pre-teen hoping to generate the same family-audience appeal. But whether Winnie Foster, the main character in the new musical adaptation of “Tuck Everlasting,” can connect with all-ages theatergoers will depend on their inclination for sentiment, moralistic storytelling and a show that’s nothing if not sincere. Those who lean that way will be attracted to the tuneful folk-meets-Broadway score, to the solid performances and to the gentle Americana fable with life lessons intimately told. The show’s warmhearted tale and handsome production values also bode well for a family-centric market, especially on the road. But more jaded theatergoers will likely find the proceedings not so much timeless as time-consuming — a production rooted in the twee of life.
Since its premiere last year at Atlanta’s Alliance Theater, the show — with nearly the same talent — has been tightened and brightened, with Tim Federle joining the creative team as co-book writer with Claudia Shear. The opening number is sharper, one tune is repositioned to greater effect and the role of one supporting character is expanded. There’s a bit more humor, but still not enough salt and vinegar to give the sweetness some kick.
Based on the 1975 children’s book by Natalie Babbitt, the musical centers on a self-possessed 11-year-old girl (a strong-voiced Sarah Charles Lewis, making an impressive debut) at the turn of the 20th century in New Hampshire, where she lives with her recently widowed mother (Valerie Wright) and feisty nana (Pippa Pearthree). Feeling constrained by her overprotective mom, she runs away from home and comes across teen-like Jesse Tuck (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) and his mysterious brood, living deep in her family’s woods. There, she learns that about a hundred years earlier the Tucks accidentally sipped from a magical spring nearby and have remained frozen in age, immortal ever since.