A review of Broadway’s “Tuck Everlasting: The Musical”

A few weeks ago, my eleven year-old-daughter huddled in bed, weeping.

“I don’t want to grow up,” she sobbed. “I wish I were still five.”

I wanted to say, I wish you were, too, but that’s only sometimes. Only when I think about who she was at five, at three, at seven, and realize those little girls are gone forever. Raising a child brings a new understanding of just how quickly life happens while you’re busy making other plans.

But I knew why she was upset. To be eleven means to balance precariously between childhood and adolescence, and all the emotional and physical turmoil that comes with it. My daughter is a highly sensitive and dramatic kid, which makes stressful situations extra fun (not). I tackled this one by talking about the natural course of life and acknowledging that yes, it’s hard to let go and move on. I reminded her of all the marvelous things in her world at the moment and in her near future. “There’s so much to love about being eleven,” I said. “Enjoy it.”

Just days later, when she and I had the opportunity to see a preview of the new Broadway musical Tuck Everlasting, it seemed like fate. Although neither of us have read the book or seen the 2002 film adaptation, we knew the story’s premise: a young girl in late 1880's New Hampshire discovers a family, the Tucks, who’ve drunk from a magical spring that grants them immortality. Like my daughter, both the main character Winnie Foster and the actress who portrays her are eleven years old. Broadway’s had a run of good luck with adaptations of “modern classics” of children’s literature (as in, Matilda and Wicked), so when we walked into the theatre and saw the giant, sprawling tree-of-life set framing the stage, we knew we were in for a treat.

Two hours later, it was my turn to weep, thanks to a storytelling ballet in Act Two that’s both joyful and devastating. I won’t say more than that for fear of spoiling the plot.

The magic of Tuck Everlasting: The Musical is that it manages to feel timeless and current at the same time — as if the show itself has drunk from the spring. I don’t have the theatre-critic street cred to discuss the American folk-infused musical score and choreography, performed with humor and grace by the talented cast, including young Sarah Charles Lewis in her “dream come true” Broadway debut. But I can say this: it was all just wonderful. My daughter was transfixed, and she didn’t even seem embarrassed that her mother was crying. (It helped that I wasn’t the only audience member sobbing into her Playbill.)

When we got out of the show, it was a warm night and my daughter suggested we go for a walk. I think she needed to process what we’d just seen. As we wandered through Times Square, I asked her, “So, what would you do if you were Winnie? Would you drink from the spring?”

“Definitely not,” said my daughter. “Would you?”

“No way,” I replied.

We talked about why. We recalled the imagery that inspired one of the musical’s most moving songs (“The Wheel”). We discussed some of the reasons why members of the Tuck family regretted their accidental drink from the fountain of youth.

I can’t remember the last time we watched anything together that made us think and share ideas like this. Now we have this new connection we can touch on when one, or both, of us feels melancholy about the passage of time.

Perhaps that’s the real power of Tuck Everlasting: The Musical. Beyond the music, singing, dancing, costumes, and powerhouse talent, this is an experience that will resonate long after the curtain calls. It’s a glorious celebration of why we “ride the wheel aplenty for all that it’s worth” and a family musical in the truest sense of the word, touching on themes and issues that affect us all, no matter our age…and no matter whether we’d choose to drink from the spring or not.

Score another for kidlit on Broadway. Now I’m off to read the book!

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