Tuck Everlasting review sweet sip from the elixir of life

This adaptation of the Natalie Babbitt book has flaws the songs are repetitive and the set is chaotic but the shows spirit is ultimately touching

The question of immortality is addressed in the transitory new musical Tuck Everlasting, based on the well-loved childrens book by Natalie Babbitt. Winnie Foster (adorable newcomer Sarah Charles Lewis), a passably rebellious 11-year-old, chances upon the Tucks, a family rendered eternal by having drunk from a woodland spring with an unusually high eternity content. And judging by the flashing teeth, plenty of fluoride, too.

Kidnapped by the Tucks (the lovely Carolee Carmello, Michael Park, Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Robert Lenzi), Winnie must decide if she would prefer drink from the spring or live out the more typical cycle of aging and death. Her choice is complicated by the presence of the Man in the Yellow Suit (Broadway veteran Terrence Mann, so hammy as to make several surrounding blocks deeply un-Kosher). The Man, a seedy carny with peculiar sartorial choices, plans to bottle and market the water, thus making himself a millionaire and taking a lot of business away form Evian.

The story, with its mixture of the homespun and the philosophical, was always going to be difficult to adapt, in part because while there is plenty of action (kidnapping, murder, and in the novel at least, a daring prison break), it takes up only a few pages in the book, which is otherwise devoted to gentler questions and pursuits.

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figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Terrence Mann, center: so hammy as to make several surrounding blocks deeply un-Kosher. Photograph: Joan Marcus/AP

This tension surfaces in the musicals structure, which begins well enough with Live Like This, an I Wish song for all of the major characters. But too many of the numbers that come after, composed by Chris Miller with lyrics by Nathan Tysen, also fall into the I Wish category. This reiteration of desire eventually palls.

The lyrics can feel generic and so, too, can the book, by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, both of whom have proved distinct writers with other projects. The language, with its hugs and OKs and hopes that 1808 will be our best year yet!, is too casually contemporary, but at least the writers earn a laugh when Winnies grandma addresses the Man in the Yellow Suit as an evil banana.

Something also seems amiss with the storybook design. The woodsy set, by Walt Spangler, has tendrils that best resemble a giant order of fettuccine or an experiment in basket-weaving gone terribly awry. The costumes for the chorus, by Gregg Barnes, with dcolletage and Regency waists for the women and close-fitting britches for the men, appear borrowed from some Jane Austen soft porn. And theres a scene on a boat that looks like a country-fried version of Music of the Night.

But the musicals signal misstep and ultimate salvation is its sentimentality. One of the finer qualities of Babbitts book is how free it is of the slushy or mawkish. Not so here. Winnie is given a dead father, ostensibly to deepen her emotional predicament and theres a sappy quality in how her pert presence revivifies each of the tired Tucks.

If this seems mushy and unnecessary, the same sentiments inspire a concluding ballet, choreographed by the shows director Casey Nicholaw, which is a triumph. Yes, its symbolism is obvious. Yes, it tugs at the heartstrings with a deathless grip. But it also beautifully illustrates the shows belief in the quiet splendor of human life, however ephemeral.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/apr/26/tuck-everlasting-review-musical-broadhurst-theatre-natalie-babbitt

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