Seeing a musical about facing one's mortality during the week that I'm getting another year older seemed like one that would certainly tug at my emotions...at least that's what I thought after attending Tuck Everlasting on Broadway. However, I didn't know that was what the show was about. I had never read the novel by Natalie Babbitt. But there were plenty of people in the audience who had. It was full of a fan club for either the book or the film that would scream out after every song. Having no experience with the story prior, I could only assume the lyrics must have come right from the book. When I walked out of the theater, I heard 20-somethings saying they cried the entire final 20 minutes. I was happy for them as I know that has been my experience with many shows and I know that exhilarating feeling.
This wasn't that show for me.
The musical has a beautiful look thanks to Walt Spangler, costumes by Gregg Barnes, lighting design by Kenneth Posner, and sound design by Brian Ronan. Yes, I'm discussing those elements first because for this audience member, they were the most exciting things on that stage.
Director/Choreographer Casey Nicholaw (who I love his Something Rotten) has taken what should be an intimate story and turned it into an overblown musical. I think what many critics complained about Big Fish when it ran on Broadway will happen with critics of this show. The producers picked the right theater with the Broadhurst (which usually houses plays) to tell the intimate story. The set designer has pulled everything in to add to that feeling of a smaller show (which would be greatly told in the round even). However, the decision to add a large ensemble instantly removes us from the story at hand due to the way they are used. Dancers appear all throughout the show for no reason whatsoever. Are they townspeople? Are they woodland fairies? We don't know. They are just there to distract from what the leads are singing about.
Speaking of lead, this show is lead by 11 year old Sarah Charles Lewis and what an amazing job she does in her Broadway debut as young Winnie who discovers the Tuck family and their secret of living forever. There are other performers that I've absolutely loved on stage in other shows (Carolee Carmello, Michael Park, Terrence Mann, Andrew Keenan-Bolger), yet something is missing in this show for me. None of the music by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen takes me anywhere. All the songs blend into each other sounding too similar. (My theater partner pointed out a few they liked that stood out to them.) The book feels like there are huge holes in it that never let us really get to know the Tuck family (hello, title of the show), which in turn means I don't end up feeling anything for them. There are also setups that I think are going to lead in one direction and then dropped. (Miles Tuck gets a song all about his son and I really believed there was going to be a huge revelation about him that didn't pan out.)
I walk into every Broadway show wanting to love it, yet I knew after the opening number it hadn't grabbed me. I was actually pretty lost by the time that ended. (I blame the useless dance number.) I don't know if it's because the musical felt it needed to pad the original novel, but I would have preferred getting to know the characters better and a stronger conflict, some dramatic tension in the story. Even the villain (The man in the Yellow Suit) while played wonderfully by Mann feels underdeveloped and the stakes are not high enough. Winnie quickly comes into the lives of the Tucks, but somehow I miss the journey and only felt I was watching a different take on the Peter Pan story.
There is another original show that opened on Broadway this year (Bright Star) that also has issues in the book and the score, but there is a fire in that show that allows it to transcend. Even though Tuck Everlasting has been worked out of town before coming to NYC, it feels very flat to me as if it doesn't quite achieve the wonder and magic it's wanting to convey.
I will say there is a moment towards the end where a choreographed ballet is very effective (especially if you love the first five minutes of the movie UP), but even that would have been better had the ensemble not been overused prior.
Perhaps this will be this year's Finding Neverland, meant to fill that family-friendly void in a Broadway show. I will admit I saw that film and maybe that's why seeing it on Broadwaytugged at my heartstrings more than this did. (The same can be said about Big Fish which I wrote a love letter about for Huffington Post.) We DO bring our prior knowledge of source material into the theater with us and it's quite obvious lovers of this story are fawning all over this musical. However, a show needs to be able to stand on it's own as well and not rely on our memory to fill in the blanks. For me, there is too much NOT working in this for me to wholeheartedly recommend. (And now I can feel the students that have read this book of immortality suddenly wanting to run me out of town like the man in the Yellow Suit.)