SALT LAKE CITY — “Tuck Everlasting” the musical may have “charm,” “refreshing surprises” and a story well known by decades of school-age children, but one thing the musical didn’t have was good timing.
The musical opened on Broadway April 26, 2016, nine months after another musical based on a book opened: “Hamilton.” (Perhaps you’ve heard of it?)
In the wake of the “Hamilton” debut and its meteoric rise, “Tuck Everlasting” — and other “remarkable” pieces of musical theater such as “Bright Star” — were overshadowed, according to Sally Dietlein, Hale Centre Theatre’s vice president and executive producer.
“They were literally obliterated by ‘Hamilton,’” Dietlein said in an interview. “Unless (a show was) already (on Broadway) and existing and doing well — like ‘Wicked’ or ‘Beautiful’ or ‘Book of Mormon’ or maybe a Disney … the little things that were trying to bubble up just didn’t have the ability to get their name out there in a powerful enough way to get their feet underneath them.”
“Tuck Everlasting” closed on Broadway after only 39 performances but, according to Dietlein, Samuel French, the musical’s publishing house, doesn’t want this “wonderful piece of theater” to be lost and forgotten.
She said that’s why the company sought out HCT and asked it to mount the regional premiere of “Tuck Everlasting,” which will be staged in HCT’s Jewel Box Theatre April 2-June 23. (Which, as it happens, overlaps with “Hamilton's” run at the Eccles Theater.)
Dietlein said HCT has a longstanding history with the publishing company. Samuel French was the company that published many of HCT founders Ruth and Nathan Hale’s plays, and HCT has licensed one or two Samuel French plays a year since the theater company was established in the ’80s.
“They felt it was in our wheelhouse,” she said. “We love to do family theater … (and ‘Tuck Everlasting’ is) an elegant piece of theater. It has a rich story that even though it was a children’s book, it really hits all ages.”
Although “Tuck Everlasting” may have been lesser known on Broadway, the story is well known in the state of Utah, as it’s based on Natalie Babbitt’s 1975 book by the same name, which countless children have read as part of their school curriculum. It tells the story of an 11-year-old girl named Winnie who stumbles upon a young man and his family who have become immortal after drinking from a spring in the woods near Winnie’s home. She works to protect the family’s secret until she must decide whether to join them and live forever.
“I remember reading this book in middle school,” said Kacey Udy, HCT’s production designer, in an email interview. “The story and (the) questions that it asks really stuck with me and became a favorite story of mine, and I think many of our patrons will have a similar experience with the show.”
The fact that the stage production is not as familiar to local audiences gives HCT a chance to make the show their own.
“I always welcome a piece that is new to many,” Udy said. “It gives you the opportunity to be one of the first to visually establish the setting for a show. I reread the original book by Natalie Babbitt and used the fantastic descriptions that she created in her story as the base for my design.”
Udy’s designs will come to life in HCT’s Jewel Box Theatre, the smaller of the two stages in the theater company’s new home at the Mountain America Performing Arts Centre in Sandy. Staging it there as opposed to the technology-heavy Centre Stage Theatre was deliberate.
“The story is pretty intimate and small,” said Dave Tinney, director and choreographer of HCT’s production, in an email, emphasizing that the small cast size contributes to that intimate feel. “The show would be swallowed up in our other space … (but) it fits perfectly in our intimate smaller space.”
Fans of the book may also notice inspiration from the text in the show’s music and set.
“Many of the lyrics in the songs are taken from conversations and dialogue from the book,” Tinney said, adding that the performers will be accompanied by a live four-piece band. “(It’s) beautiful language.”Comment on this story
But Udy said that while the production elements are sure to be a draw for audiences, the story itself is really what carries the impact.
“The themes of dealing with love, life and loss are something we all deal with daily,” Udy said. “This is definitely a show that will entertain yet also stay with you and become a source of a lot of post-show discussion.”
If you go …
What: “Tuck Everlasting” the musical
Where: Hale Centre Theatre, 9900 S. Monroe St., Sandy
When: April 2-June 23, dates and times vary
How much: $36-$40 for adults, $18-$20 for children and youths