If somebody offered you a magic elixir that guarantees you will live forever, fixed at your current age, would you gulp it down?
“Not so fast,” cautions “Tuck Everlasting,” the soft-spoken, utterly enchanting new musical about a family frozen in time, now at the Broadhurst Theatre.
Based on the 1975 novel by Natalie Babbitt, this fairy tale with music by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen, has a quaint, timeless quality that perfectly suits its subject. With a book by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, the enterprise is enhanced by Walt Spangler’s imaginative, earthy set, much of it fashioned from scraps of wood.
The tale begins when the Tuck family unwittingly drinks from a spring deep in the woods of New Hampshire in 1808, later discovering that their bodies never age. Flash forward nearly a century, where a girl named Winnie, who has run away from her tyrannical mother (Valerie Wright) and Nana (Pippa Pearthree), stumbles upon the Tucks in the woods and discovers their secret.
Two splashy Broadway tuners about seizing the day before it slips away
Winnie seems to have a crush on Jesse Tuck (the delightful, exceedingly crush-worthy Andrew Keenan-Bolger), forever 17. If Mr. and Mrs. Tuck (Michael Park and Carolee Carmello) are distraught about being discovered, they find themselves enchanted by the vibrant, inquisitive young interloper. The gruff, brooding older son, Miles (Robert Lenzi), has a dark past that Winnie coaxes him to reveal.
Not that it’s any surprise. As the charming Winnie, emerging star Sarah Charles Lewis is one of the most gifted and appealing youngsters to grace a Broadway stage this season. Free from any hint of smarminess, which often plagues child actors, she has the poise and precision (not to mention formidable vocal chops) of an actor many years her senior. According to her Playbill bio, she is an 11-year old playing an 11-year old. Did Miss Lewis somehow discover a magical spring of her own?
This family-friendly “Tuck” owes much of its power to restraint. Many of the musical numbers feel like dainty, lyrical ballets. Yet it’s hard to believe that this delicate, plaintive piece is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, known for muscular, raucous extravaganzas like “The Book of Mormon” and “Something Rotten.” There’s only one number, set in a carnival, that might qualify as a razzle-dazzle crowd-pleaser.
In this mystical “Tuck Everlasting,” the emotional intensity sneaks up on you. In Act II, the soaring ballad “Time,” delivered with aplomb by Lenzi and revealing Miles’ pain of losing a wife and child, is heart-wrenching. At that moment we realize just what is at stake when you opt for life everlasting. You are stuck in the past, watching life pass you by, while the rest of the world hurtles forward.
And the central message, wrapped up in a bow, is one worth heeding. “Don’t be afraid of death,” Mr. Tuck advises Winnie. “Be afraid of not being truly alive. You don’t need to live forever, you just need to live.”
It’s almost impossible to talk about “Waitress,” the highly anticipated new musical about a careworn server at a Southern roadside diner who also creates its yummy pies, without slipping into corny baking metaphors. Especially when Jessie Nelson (book) and soulful pop singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles (who wrote the superb music and lyrics) have strenuously drawn parallels between baking pies and healing broken hearts, extracting joy from pain, making peace with “happy enough,” and seizing your dreams.
The ingredients of this alternately moody and snappy comic drama, based on the 2007 film of the same name, are chosen with utmost care. You could say that down-to-earth Jenna, the titular waitress (the divine Jessie Mueller, Tony Award-winner for “Beautiful, The Carole King Musical”) serves as the flour for this endeavor. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a brute, she finds herself pregnant and miserable. She gives her pies precious names depending on whatever tribulation — or dream — she’s processing that day, like “My Husband’s a Jerk Chicken Pot Pie,” “Jumping Without a Net Bottomless Pie,” and “Almost Makes You Believe Again Pie.”
Jenna’s forbidden love interest, who happens to be her obstetrician (Drew Gehling), adds the requisite sugar. A decidedly sour note is provided by Jenna’s derelict, abusive husband, Earl (a ferocious Nick Cordero).
Her wacked-out co-workers at Joe’s Pie Diner are the dramatic equivalent of Tabasco Sauce. The hefty-framed Becky (the vocal powerhouse Keala Settle) is a spitfire with a sensitive side. The feisty, pony-tailed Dawn (the comically gifted Kimiko Glenn) is a bundle of insecurities who later finds her self-confidence. Most of the supporting roles add a distinct salty nuttiness, especially Dawn’s obsessive new love interest (Christopher Fitzgerald, who delivers a manic, side-splitting performance).
The stunning set, designed by Scott Pask, features a funky mid-century diner, a dark, dumpy abode (Jenna and Earl’s, naturally), and gorgeous Edward Hopper-esque backdrops.
The Master Chef behind this concoction is none other than Diane Paulus, the director known for such recent hits as “Finding Neverland” and “Pippin.” And yet, even with all these promising fresh ingredients, the result is a bit of a letdown. Sure, it’s tasty enough, but, like Jenna’s pies, I wanted heavenly.
It’s as if Chef Paulus used a heavy duty electric mixer when a few deft strokes of a whisk would have done the trick.
TUCK EVERLASTING | Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St. | Tue., Thu. at 7 p.m.; Wed. at 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat., Wed. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. $59-$147 at telecharge.com | Two hrs., 15 mins., with intermission
WAITRESS | Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St. | Tue.-Thu. at 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $69-$149 at ticketmaster.com | Two hrs., 35 mins., with intermission