Review: “Tuck Everlasting” in Rohnert Park

Large-scale, family-friendly musical theatre returns to the North Bay with the Spreckels Theatre Company’s production of Tuck Everlasting. The stage adaptation of Natalie Babbitt’s 1975 children’s novel about immortality had a very brief life on Broadway in 2016. If the Spreckels production – running in Rohnert Park through May 21 – is any indication, the show should find great favor among regional and community theater audiences.

Purists of the Babbitt original may take issue with some of the changes made by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle to the book, but the heart of the story is still there.  Young Winnie Foster (Molly Belle Hart) is starting to chafe at the restraints put on her by her still-in-mourning-for-her-husband mother (Erin Henninger). With the support of her Nana (Kimberly Kalember), she wants to go to the traveling fair but her mother says no. What’s a plucky young girl to do?  

Molly Belle Hart, Nico Alva

Run away, of course! As she traverses through the family woods, she comes upon a young teen named Jesse (Nico Alva) drinking from a spring. As she prepares to drink from the spring, he stops her.  Jesse’s older brother Miles (Samuel J. Gleason) shows up and fears that Winnie will reveal the location of the spring. The boys decide to kidnap Winnie and take her to the Tuck family cabin deep into the woods.

Father Angus (Larry Williams) and mother Mae (Tika Moon) join the boys in telling Winnie the Tuck family story – how they came to realize that drinking from that spring gave them immortality and the difficulties that has presented. Winnie agrees to keep their secret and will return home to her mother in the morning but, kids being kids, sneaks off to the fair with Jesse. There they meet up with the villainous Man in the Yellow Suit (Tim Setzer) who’s been searching for the spring for decades. Trouble ensues.

While there’s good work done by the stage veterans (Moon, Kalember and Setzer in particular), a show like this sinks or swims on the talent of its young leads. Thankfully, director Emily Cornelius has two very talented performers at the helm. The simply outstanding Hart finds the right balance of charm and rebelliousness for her character and possesses a terrific singing voice. She is matched well with the personable Alva.  In supporting roles, Gleason continues to demonstrate why he’s one of the best young performers working on North Bay stages today and Chase Thompson also scores as a junior deputy searching for Winnie. 

The show’s large ensemble shines throughout the show principally in choreography that was a collaborative effort between Cornelius, Karen Miles, and the cast. Movement and dancing are a very strong part of this production, culminating in a 10-minute ballet representing the entirety of Winnie’s life that may go a little over the head of younger audience members.    

Cast and ensemble from “Tuck Everlasting”

An on-stage, 10-piece orchestra under the leadership of music director Janis Dunson Wilson deftly handles Chris Miller’s score and the set design by Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano works well in conjunction with an effective use of projections by Chris Schloemp to transport the audience to rural 19th-century New Hampshire. Costume designer Donnie Frank has dressed the cast well and has come up with one helluva yellow suit.

Tuck Everlasting is a great show with which to introduce the wonder and joy of live theater to younger audiences that should keep more seasoned theatre-goers engaged as well.

‘Tuck Everlasting’ runs through May 21 in the Codding Theater at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Thurs-Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $12 – $36. 707.588.3400. 

Photos by Jeff Thomas

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.

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