BWW Review: TUCK EVERLASTING: If You Could Live Forever, Would You?
Book by Claudia Shear & Tim Federle, Music by Chris Miller, Lyrics by Nathan Tyson, Based on the novel by Natalie Babbitt, Directed by Nancy Curran Willis, Music Direction by Matthew Stern, Choreography by Lara Finn Banister; Scenic Design, Janie Howland; Lighting Design, SeifAllah Sallotto-Cristobal; Sound Design, Elizabeth Havenor; Costume Design, Brian Simons; Properties Design, Sarajane Morse Mullins; Stage Manager, Cathie Regan
CAST: Madi Shaer, Max Charbonneau, Rebekah Turner, Anthony Pires, Jr., Sean Mitchell Crosley, Robert Saoud, Matthew Zahnzinger, Timmy Chase, Jess Andra, Cathy Merlo, Gabriel De Beco, Noah Thomas Quinn, John Breen, Sabrina Koss, Billy Luce, Jr., Jackie Marchetti-Heavy, Todd McNeel, Zoe Maya Miller, Sarajane Morse Mullins, David Rodrigues
Performances through December 22 at the Umbrella Stage Company, 40 Stow Street, Concord, MA; Box Office 978-371-0820 or www.TheUmbrellaStage.org
There's not a Christmas tree in sight, but there's plenty of uplifting, feel good spirit in the Umbrella Stage Company's Tuck Everlasting, the third production of their inaugural season in their gleaming new building in Concord. Under the direction of Elliot Norton Award-winner Nancy Curran Willis, the simplicity and magic of the story shine through the captivating performance of Madi Shaer as 11-year old Winnie Foster, a girl whose life is inexorably changed when she runs away and meets the Tuck family in the woods of Treegap, New Hampshire.
The central question of the story, "If you could live forever, would you?" is woven in and out of everything that happens, leaving its imprint on the audience and resonating after the final curtain. Along the way, life unfolds to show the parallel tracks of the Tucks, who are "everlasting" after drinking from an enchanted spring, and the members of the Foster family and other denizens of the small town who experience all of the usual milestones of birth, growing up, aging, and death. In fact, after a brief prologue introducing the Tucks searching for a homestead in 1808, the first act fast forwards to 1893, about a year after the Foster patriarch has passed away. It finds mother (Jess Andra) and grandmother (Cathy Merlo) garbed in black mourning clothes, steeped in their grief, while Winnie is chomping at the bit to don a pastel dress and escape to the fair where she used to go with her late father.
A parade of colorful carnival characters marches by, led by a flamboyant Man in the Yellow Suit (Robert Saoud, indelible portrayal), getting Winnie excited to follow, but she is foiled by her mother. The disappointed girl commiserates with a toad and is determined to run away. As Stephen Sondheim has shown us, anything can happen in the woods, and Winnie's adventure begins when she meets the youngest of the Tucks, 17-year old Jesse (Max Charbonneau, exuberant). They bond over their rebellion against the constraints placed on them by adults and set out to enjoy the fair together. Trouble ensues when the Man in the Yellow Suit, a grifter and apparent charlatan, boasts of his ability to guess anyone's age by looking into their eyes. He is taken aback by what he sees in Jesse's eyes and the wheels start churning in his head. Winnie recognizes the danger and returns with Jesse to tell his parents (Anthony Pires, Jr. and Rebekah Turner) and older brother (Sean Mitchell Crosley) that their secret is out.
What begins as a sweet story of a young girl on the cusp of adolescence, in a hurry to make her own choices and assert some independence, evolves into a coming of age tale. At first bedazzled by the possibility to remain forever young and travel the world with Jesse, Winnie gets a taste of reality when Yellow Suit's greed threatens both her family's precious woods and the Tucks' very existence. Events spiral rapidly to a life-altering moment (which I won't spoil), and the writers (Claudia Shear and Tim Federle) craft a lovely, lyrical denouement to project the future lives of the main characters. Curran Willis, music director Matthew Stern, and choreographer Lara Finn Banister see to it that the musical finale offers enchantment, as well as closure.
Among the highlights of the production is the score (music by Chris Miller, lyrics by Nathan Tysen) and the vocal talent on display, with Pires, Jr., Turner, and Crosley especially impressive. Matthew Zahnzinger gives us another in a long line of notable character portrayals as Constable Joe, and pairs with Timmy Chase as his young sidekick Hugo in a delightful duet, "You Can't Trust a Man." Two grade-schoolers (Gabriel de Beco, Noah Thomas Quinn) alternate in the role of Young Thomas. Quinn was featured at the performance I attended and was both spot on and adorable. An octet of singer/dancers (John Green, Sabrina Koss, Billy Luce, Jr., Jackie Marchetti-Heavy, Todd McNeel, Zoe Maya Miller, Sarajane Morse Mullins, David Rodriguez) embellish the musical numbers and show off the range of Brian Simons' costume designs. Janie Howland evokes a fairy tale environment with her scenic design, and SeifAllah Sallotto-Cristobal (lighting), Elizabeth Havenor (sound), and Mullins (properties) provide effective accompaniment.
Tuck Everlasting has appeal as a family-friendly show, delivering its messages on different levels. Portraying the circle of life, it includes the passing of a number of people, but, like General Douglas MacArthur said of old soldiers, they merely fade away, and my guess is that very young children would not take notice. There were children of varying ages in attendance at the performance I saw, and they appeared to be engaged. The same could be said of the adults (of varying ages) in the audience, who might best understand and take this important message to heart: "You don't need to live forever; you just need to live."