BWW Review: TUCK EVERLASTING at White Plains Performing Arts Center
According to their website, WPPAC's STAGE 2 "bridges the gap between the WPPAC Educational Department offerings and the Mainstage, giving college and community performers the opportunity to work in a regional theatre setting under the guidance of professional artists." No such disclaimer is necessary for their new production of Tuck Everlasting, it is every bit as first-rate as their mainstage productions.
Tuck Everlasting is a lovely simple tale that recently had a poor showing on Broadway. The Broadway production seemed to have everything going for it - a delightful story, a top-notch cast, a tuneful score. Etc. However, at its core, Tuck is a small-scale, intimate story about a young girl and a young boy, and the Broadway production tried desperately to over-inflate the story to grand scale with enormous props and a set reminiscent of Jurassic Park.
In the WPPAC production, director Amy Griffin wisely fine-tunes the focus onto the important elements of the story...namely: the story itself. She is blessed with a marvelous cast of young performers (attention casting agents!) Matthew Rafanelli is delightfully ebullient and charismatic as Jesse Tuck and the extraordinary Haylie Shea as Winnie Foster is a small miracle of charm and energy, lighting up the stage in every scene. The relationship between Jesse and Winnie is a delicate one to handle (he's 17 and she's 11) and the Broadway production did not handle it particularly well, but Ms. Griffin's light-handed direction keeps the relationship pure and joyful.
The plot is fairly simple, but certainly evocative, about the perils of eternal life. A family unwittingly stumbles upon an eternal life-giving spring, drinks from it and now is trapped in time - until the plucky young Winne accidentally encounters Jesse and charms him to pieces. He breaks the family's cardinal rule when he brings Winnie home to meet the family.
The entire cast is strong, appealing and worthy of mention - Mikey Marmann as Miles Tuck, Gabi Garcia as Mae Tuck, Daniel Pivovar as Angus Tuck, Maurice Chinnery as Constable Joe, Nathan Clift as Hugo, and John Anthony Lopez, as the Man in the Yellow Suit.
The plot suffers from some silly clichés, stilted lyrics and clumsy lines ("a night in November/that I will remember." "You're an evil banana!" "Don't be afraid of death, Winnie, be afraid of not being truly alive.") And the moment we see the Man in the Yellow Suit, it's abundantly clear he's the villain -but just to be absolutely sure everyone in the cheap seats is aware, he gets his own production number detailing his nefarious nature.
The score is interesting - it vacillates between Appalachian/Celtic-flavored melodies and flat out Broadway anthems. There are numerous hum-able numbers (and a couple of clunkers) but by-and-large it is a lovely tuneful score and musical director Stephen Ferri (Music Director/WPPAC Executive Producer) does a marvelous job of keeping the musical accompaniment lithe and bouyant, injecting energy when needed and gracefully supporting the singers in the more tender moments.
Choreographer Kelli Gautreau does a superb job keeping things moving during the production numbers allowing her talented cast to show off their skills, exulting the emotions while keeping the action relevant - something her Broadway predecessors failed miserably at. Her choices for the two big production numbers and especially for the penultimate-scene dream ballet, were spot on. A dream ballet is always a dicey proposition in a musical, but Ms. Gautreau deftly and delicately evokes the passages of time in sublime fashion. She is aided greatly by the incandescent Annastasia Mercedes in the role of the aging Winnie. Ms. Mercedes elevates the entire production to new heights as she glides gracefully through the stages of Winnie's life - as Jessie watches helplessly. Many tears were flowing in the audience during this ravishing and melancholy evocation of the inevitability of life in all its beauty, pain, love and loss.
All in all, Tuck Everlasting is not terribly subtle or deep, but it is a joy on every level. WPPAC has a hit on its hands and you will, no doubt, leave the theater with a great big smile.
August 2 - 11
8:00 pm / 2:00 pm
Tickets at: https://wppac.com/shows/tuck-everlasting/