Tuck Everlasting is a thoughtful musical at TheatreWorks

Jesse (Eddie Grey, foreground left), Winnie (Natalie Schroeder) and a fairgoer (Jonathan Rhys Williams) have fun at the fair in TheatreWorks’ “Tuck Everlasting” at Lucie Stern Theatre. Photo: Kevin Berne, TheatreWorks

Tuck Everlasting: Musical. Book by Claudia Shear & Tim Federle. Music by Chris Miller & Lyrics by Nathan Tysen. Based on the novel by Natalie Babbitt. Directed by Robert Kelley. TheatreWorks of Silicon Valley, Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA. www.theatreworks.org or call (650) 463-1960.

November 28 – December 30, 2018

Tuck Everlasting is a thoughtful musical at TheatreWorks. Rating: ★★★★★

Have you ever thought about living forever? More specifically, living forever and never aging? That is the crux of the musical “Tuck Everlasting” that is being given a superb production at the Lucie Stern Theatre by the innovative TheatreWorks. The musical is based on the 1975 bestselling novel of the same name by Natalie Babbitt that has previously been made into two films; one in 1981 by One Pass Media and the other in 2002 by Disney. The musical version opened in 2015 in Atlanta and on Broadway in 2016 being nominated and winning numerous awards.

The action takes place in “Treegap, New Hampshire and its surrounding wood in August 1893.” There is a charming codicil that quietly suggests the answer to wishing everlasting life is a gracious “No.”  Although the Tuck family are the ones who are “everlasting’ it is the unhappy 11 year old Winnie Foster who has to make that decision. On the Sunday matinee Katie Maupin played Winnie (alternating with Natalie Schroeder).

The Tucks are the accepting kindly mother Mae (Kristine Reese), resignedly complacent father Angus (Jonathan Rhys Williams), brooding elder son Miles (Travis Leland) and 17 year old exuberant Jesse (Eddie Grey) who was born 102 years ago.

Winnie is unhappy living with her widowed mother Betsy (Teressa Foss) and grandmother Nana (Lucinda Hitchcock Cone) decides to run away and wanders into the woods where she sees the Tuck family drinking from a spring. When she attempts to drink from the spring Jesse stops her without explanation. Since Winnie is alone in the woods the Tuck family takes her under their wing and she learns about the power of the water and everlasting life. They also tell her about a man in a yellow suit (Michael Gene Sullivan) who has been pursuing them intuitively knowing about life everlasting that he wants to exploit.

The Man in the Yellow Suit (center – Michael Gene Sullivan) rejoices at discovering the secret to the Tuck family’s eternal youth, with carnival workers (Marissa Rudd – left, Giana Gambardella – right) in “Tuck Everlasting,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto through December 30.
Photo Credit: Kevin Berne

When Jesse is smitten with Winnie and suggests they get married he will not allow her to drink the vial of water he has given her until she is 17 years old, the age of consent for marriage. In the meantime they go to the traveling carnival run by the man in the yellow suit and complications occur.

The PR notes tell us that the musical deviates from the book that does not include a carnival. It was wisely added to include production numbers that are vigorous and gorgeous. The authors have also added a Constable Joe (Colin Thompson) and inept son Hugo (David Crane) to add humor. They travel into the Wood searching for Winnie.

With all the characters in place it is the magnificent staging, superb acting/directing, serviceable music sung beautifully that create a must see evening of a book/play that asks a very philosophical question. For the Tucks everlasting life is a burden and not a blessing.

Eighth Grader Katie Maupin has a beautiful voice and professional stage presence making you believe in Winnie’s decision making. Her time with Eddie Grey as Jesse in the tree top sharing secrets or enjoying the Fair as youngsters do is charming and feels real. Travis Leland as Miles has the ability project his deep hurt and express distress that his wife has departed because she could not understand why he remains physically young while she aged. Jonathan Rhys Williams, a TheatreWorks’ stallworth, creates an ambivalent Angus required of the role. He is matched line for line and song for song with Kristine Reese as his wife Mae.

Michael Gene Sullivan as the man in the yellow suit exudes lechery and deviousness as required in the role. Colin Thompson routinely steals center stage with his hilarious Constable Joe but he shares the humor with David Crane’s insecure Hugo who is seeking to become a full-fledged Deputy. Their comedic timing is pitched perfect.

Front : Colin Thompson as Constable Joe rear: David Crane as Hugo. Photo by Kevin Berne

The TheatreWorks production has an enchanting stunning set by Joe Ragey with trees surrounding center stage where moveable scenery effortlessly glide on and off stage. On Stage left there is a gigantic tree that extends over orchestra pit and is integral to Winnie and Jesse’s relationship.

Robert Kelley’s direction is faultless throughout the action of the play and codicil depicting the natural stages of life cements Angus’s words to Winnie: “It’s a wheel, Winnie. Everything is a wheel. Turning and turning, never stopping . . . People always coming in new, always growing, and changing and always moving on.”

Running time is two hours and 10 minutes with an intermission.

CAST: Winnie Foster (alternating in the role) Katie Maupin, Natalie Schroeder; Jesse Tuck, Eddie Grey; Mae Tuck, Kristine Reese; Miles Tuck, Travis Leland; Angus Tuck, Jonathan Rhys Williams; Man in the Yellow Suit, Michael Gene Sullivan; Betsy Foster, Winnie’s Mother, Teressa Foss; Nana, Winnie’s Grandmother, Lucinda Hitchcock Cone; Hugo, David Crane; Constable Joe, Colin Thomson; Thomas Tuck (alternating in the role) Sydney Walker Freeman, Jake Miller.

CREATIVE TEAM: Directed by Robert Kelley; Musical Direction by William Liberatore; Choreographer Alex Perez; Scenic Designer Joe Ragey; Costume Designer Fumiko Bielefeldt; Lighting Designer Pamila Z. Gray; Sound Designer Jeff Mockus.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com