Produced by: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Directed by: Robert Kelley
Choreographed by: Alex Perez
Music direction by: William J. Liberatore
Featuring: Natalie Schroeder, Katie Maupin, Michael Gene Sullivan, Jonathan Rhys Williams, Eddie Grey, Marissa Rudd, Colin Thompson, David Crane, and Lucinda Hitchcock Cone
Running time: 135 minutes, one intermission
When: November 28 – December 30, 2018
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Tickets: $40-$100 (savings available). Visit theatreworks.org or 650-463-1960
wonderful for the whole family
Would we really want to live forever, never changing, never aging? That is the question posed in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s beautifully produced “Tuck Everlasting,” from the 1975 book by Natalie Babbit.
The story is set in 1895 in Treegap, New Hampshire, where 11-year old Winnie Foster is trapped at home with her mother and grandma. On opening night, Winnie was played by Natalie Schroeder, with a talent well beyond her years. She alternates in the role with Katie Maupin, a Bay Area favorite.
Winnie’s father died less than a year ago and her mother insists on them wearing black and not going out, as “it wouldn’t be seemly.” This does not sit well with young Winnie – especially as the fair has just come to town – and she escapes one day to nearby Treegap Wood. There she happens upon 17-year old Jesse Tuck (a boyish Eddie Grey). Jesse reveals that thanks to the water from a magic spring in the wood, he is actually 102.
Treegap Wood is beautifully reproduced by Joe Ragey’s scenic design on the Lucie Stern stage with a towering and very realistic-looking ash tree nearly spreading its branches over the audience. Jesse and Winnie climb it and sing “Top of the World” about the wonderful view. (Director Robert Kelley told me it was quite a performance to build, then transport the tree from the TheatreWorks scene shop in Newark to Palo Alto.) Other trees move around between houses and the fairground as we are whisked from one scene to another.
The Tuck family lives in a little cottage in the wood, and Jesse and his brother Miles (Travis Leland) are home for their regular 10-year family reunion. Jesse has a habit of getting into trouble, so Ma Tuck (Kristine Reese, lovely singing voice) is annoyed but not surprised when he appears with Winnie, and the news that she knows their secret.
Winnie has to stay over at the cottage as it’s getting late, but Jesse springs her from the attic and they go to have some fun at the fair. The fair is staged with all the usual distractions cotton candy, dancers, clowns, a carnival strength hammer but here is where the story’s villain appears. And quite an appearance, too.
In a bright yellow suit, the fair’s barker, nicely played and sung with suspicious undertones by Michael Gene Sullivan, can guess your age just by looking into your eyes. He correctly pegs Winnie at 11 years old, but when he looks into Jesse’s eyes, his own eyes grow wide with delight, as he can tell that despite his outward appearance of a 17-year old, Jesse is in fact 102. He has been looking far and wide for the elixir of eternal youth, and Jesse, he thinks, holds the secret.
Back at Winnie’s place her mom (Teressa Foss) and grandma (Lucinda Hitchcock Clone) are worried sick, thinking Winnie has been kidnapped. So they call in the local policeman, Constable Joe, and his deputy-in-training Hugo, who provide some comic relief. Joe (Colin Thompson) and Hugo (David Crane) do a nice bit of Laurel and Hardy together as they try to find out what’s happened to Winnie, and have their suspicions about the barker, that “evil banana” as grandma describes him.
In the meantime the Tuck family is concerned that their secret is out and prepares to move to a new locale. But the evil banana finds them and a fight ensues, resulting in the demise of the barker. Constable Joe proclaims the barker was killed in self-defense and that no charges will be made.
Jesse thinks that he found a soulmate in Winnie and asks her to wait six years for him, until she too is 17. He gives her a bottle of the magic spring water with the strict instruction not to drink it until her 17th birthday.
In the final act of the play, the company whisks through the years of Winnie’s life and family. She never does drink the water from the bottle, so ages gracefully, as Jesse observes from afar.
“Tuck Everlasting” is a wonderful show for the whole family. It draws the audience into the story as we follow each carefully-drawn character’s foibles. It is Palo Alto’s gain that the show was bumped off Broadway by “Hamilton.” TheatreWorks doesn’t disappoint.