“TUCK EVERLASTING,” at Hale Centre Theatre, 9900 S. Monroe St., Sandy (801-984-9000 or hct.org); running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes (one intermission)
SANDY — When “Tuck Everlasting” the musical opened on Broadway in 2016, it was up against the megahit “Hamilton.”
The outcome? “Tuck Everlasting” only lasted 39 performances.
But as Sally Dietlein, Hale Centre Theatre’s vice president and executive producer previously told the Deseret News, the publishing house behind “Tuck Everlasting” didn’t want this “wonderful piece of theater” to be lost and forgotten, which is why the company specifically sought out HCT to mount the regional premiere of “Tuck Everlasting,” which runs through June 23 in the Jewel Box Theatre.
In a somewhat bizarre twist of fate, “Tuck Everlasting” will be up against “Hamilton” again, this time here in Utah as the rap musical dances its way onto the Eccles Theater stage starting April 11.
But this time around, “Tuck Everlasting” actually stands a chance.
Based on Natalie Babbitt’s 1975 book by the same name — which countless children have read as part of their school curriculum — “Tuck Everlasting” is undeniably family-friendly fare, and HCT’s rendition is a heartwarming option for the whole family … or anyone who can’t get tickets to “Hamilton” but is still looking for an option for date night.
It tells the story of an 11-year-old girl named Winnie who feels stifled by her prim-and-proper, overprotected existence. She longs for adventure — or at least the chance to go beyond the fence — and when she finally decides to venture out, she stumbles upon a young man and his family who have become immortal after drinking from a spring in the woods near Winnie’s home. The family whisks Winnie away, hoping to impress upon her the gravity of their secret. Along the way, Winnie finds the excitement and friendship she craves but also has to decide whether to join them and live forever.
Although writers Claudia Shear and Tim Federle's book presents a set of challenges, HCT’s production is strong thanks largely to beautiful visuals and wise casting choices.
The scenes created by the design team — including scenic designer Kacey Udy, properties designer Michelle Jensen and lighting and production designer Brian Healy — are a feast for the eyes.
Simple lattice-like structures, ladders and wooden crates throughout create the different spaces needed for each scene. And while the inherent texture of these elements alone is attractive, they, combined with careful attention to every set detail, elevates the whole production.
The subtle lighting often evokes the feeling of being in the woods, but where it really shines (pun intended) is in a fishing scene with Angus, the Tuck family's father, and Winnie. The lighting ripples like water across the stage and illuminates a sunset of soft orange, pink and purple in the background. The result is a scene that is exquisite in its softness and simplicity.
Director Dave Tinney’s acumen for casting is evident in his selection of the leads. Winnie Foster (played in the Monday/Wednesday/Friday cast by Mia Bagley) is a sweet but spunky 11-year-old who wants “to raise a little something more than heaven.” Bagley does an exceptional job as the audience watches her grow up onstage in a short amount of time, showing the maturity that accompanies coming to understand a bit more of the complexities of life and time.
The four Tucks are equally well cast, both for their acting and vocal capabilities. Angus (David K. Martin, M/W/F) is tender and fatherly, Mae (Bailee Brinkerhoff Morris, M/W/F) is thoughtful and loving, Miles (Marshall R. Madsen, single cast) is kind but tinged with pain and Jesse (Kooper Campbell, single cast) is fun-loving and adventurous, albeit reckless.
Jesse and Winnie have more of a brother-sister dynamic, not a romantic one like in the 2002 movie, and their on-stage relationship is much more developed than in the book.
In fact, the musical, while maintaining the tone of the book, adds additional plot points to create a deeper, more complete story.
HCT’s take on the show is excellent, but although the show has heart, charm and meaning, the music by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen don't quite elevate this musical to being memorable. The music is definitely enjoyable, but neither the tunes nor the lyrics are catchy to the point that audiences will run out and buy the soundtrack.
Additionally, the use of the ensemble often seemed unnecessary as they rarely played an actual part in the plot and instead pranced distractingly around the main characters.Comment on this story
But these quibbles are small. The overall product contains a message for the whole family and is incredibly touching as it demonstrates the circle of life (to borrow a phrase from another musical) — particularly in the extended dance sequence at the end of the show. While the actors never utter a single word during the dance “The Story of Winnie Foster,” the audience understands volumes as it succinctly portrays the beauty in each stage of life.
Content advisory: “Tuck Everlasting” contains a handful of mild swear words that are barely noticeable.