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TheatreWorks’ ‘Tuck Everlasting’ warms the heart

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Jonathan Rhys Williams and Katie Maupin appear in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s “Tuck Everlasting” in Palo Alto. (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

For the holidays, TheatreWorks’ offers a handsome production of “Tuck Everlasting,” which will warm, or maybe even break, your heart.

The musical, set in 1893 New Hampshire, is based on Natalie Babbitt’s children’s book about a girl who stumbles upon a family that has magically become immortal. She becomes friendly with them, particularly the perennially teen son, who offers her the chance to join them on their journey through eternity.

The weight and juiciness of that premise isn’t fully realized until the conclusion of the show — pleasant songs by Chris Miller (music) and Nathan Tysen (lyrics) and an affable book by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle feel light at first — directed by TheaterWorks’ Artistic Director Robert Kelley.

But the cast is terrific throughout: Strong, clear-voiced Katie Maupin (alternating in the role with Natalie Schroeder) is a delight as 11-year-old Winnie Foster, who runs away from her stifling home into the woods in search of adventure.

There she meets 102-year-old Jesse Tuck (an equally appealing Eddie Grey), who looks 17, and shares how he and his family stopped aging after drinking powerful water from a spring. He takes her home to meet the folks: Stalwart, wise mom Mae (a strong Kristine Reese), sweet dad Angus (humorous Jonathan Rhys Williams) and negative brother Miles (an appropriately angry Travis Leland).

Winnie stays with the Tucks awhile, prompting her mother (Teressa Foss) and grandmother (Lucinda Hitchcock Cone) to send authorities in search of her; meanwhile, the huckster Man in the Yellow Suit (Michael Gene Sullivan, perhaps more funny than scheming) discovers the secret of the magical spring, and sets out to profit.

Winnie’s possibly life-changing encounters come to the fore in the lovely folk-like tune “The Wheel” she shares with Angus, who counsels her. It’s quite touching, as is the finale, with revelations following the passage of many years.

Scenic designer Joe Ragey’s gorgeous set delineates the Fosters’ and the Tucks’ home, and, most wonderfully, the magical woods. A huge tree in front, which Winnie and Jesse climb, is stunning, and its leaves blend well with seasonal décor in the theater’s seating area.

Although “Tuck Everlasting” didn’t make it on Broadway — it was up against the “Hamilton” behemoth in 2016 — it’s nice that this gentle, thoughtful show is getting another chance in regional theaters where a sense of community makes a difference.

REVIEW
Tuck Everlasting
Presented by TheaterWorks Silicon Valley
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
When: 7:30 p.m. most Tuesdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. most Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 30
Tickets: $40 to $100
Contact: (650) 463-1960, theatreworks.org

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