Cast Album Review: Tuck Everlasting
A family musical with a sublimely talented cast, a story (taken from a beloved book) with a message about making the most of your time here on Earth, and a score that is both soaring and joyous, should have added up to a Broadway success (or at least a show that could run a season). Unfortunately, Tuck Everlasting barely survived a month on Broadway. The new cast recording from DMI Soundtracks would give no indication that this show was short-lived. In fact, this lovely CD will most likely make the case for Tuck Everlasting’s long term legacy in regional, summer stock, community and school theaters. I would not be surprised if, in a few year’s time, we see Tuck Everlasting being performed just about everywhere. It is by no means the perfect musical, but there is so much that is delightful, nostalgic, socially relevant and magical that it is bound to become a popular property when the masses hear this cast album.
The story, set in the early 1900s, tells the saga of the Tuck Family, a clan of four who have happened upon a fountain of youth that has frozen their ages in time. When their younger boy Jesse happens upon a girl named Winnie Foster while wandering in the woods and their friendship becomes something that may evolve into something deeper, it forces the Tucks to decide whether or not they can share their secret. Complicating their fears is the sinister Man in the Yellow Suit, who has spent his life trying to find the Tucks and the mysterious elixir that makes them eternal. Claudia Shear’s and Tim Federle’s adaptation of the Natalie Babbit novel may have a hard time settling on a tone, but it is compelling nonetheless in its character development and its rich exploration of theme.
Repeated listening to Chris Miller’s (music) and Nathan Tysen’s (lyrics) score will begin to cement Tuck Everlasting into your musical theatre psyche, revealing songs that are atmospheric, poetic, maybe a touch old-fashioned, and definitely emotionally charged. In the theatre, I found the opening number “Live Like This”, an Old World inspired piece that introduced most of the characters, to be both busy and convoluted. It turns out that its problems derived from over staging and a poor quality sound design. On this disc, every nuance and emotion is clearly conveyed and easily felt. In fact, this recording makes a better case for Tuck Everlasting than the stage production did. Lyrics are intelligible, melodies are bright and clear, and there aren’t the visual distractions of Casey Nicholaw’s (in a rare lapse) frantic staging. During its Broadway run, the standout song was the achingly poignant “Time” performed by Robert Lenzi, a ballad that details the story of how the years change, hollow and refill us. On the recording, it again proves that it is the musical’s best song and Lenzi (playing the older Tuck brother Miles, whose wife and children have left him instead of taking of the waters) shines. “Time” is the musical summation of the miracle and the tragedy of the Tuck’s lives (which is really just a metaphor for our own).
Other standout performances of the recording include Sarah Charles Lewis, who avoids the cloying trappings of many youthful musical theatre stars. She sings with both a gusto and a maturity beyond her twelve-years that breathes an earnest life into such songs as “Top of the World” and “Everlasting.” Andrew Keenan-Bolger is his usual spritely self: confident and energetic throughout, with just that touch of cute we love him for. Terrence Mann, who has revealed himself as a deliciously droll character actor (after decades of portraying misunderstood villains and antiheroes), has upped the stakes as the quirky and ominous Man in the Yellow Suit. Mann brings a fiendish fun to the Act II opener “Everything’s Golden.” Of course, one always has to admire the voice of Carolee Carmello, whose talents are wasted as Mae Tuck. Carmello’s voice sings high above the rest of the ensemble, and, the one place that the cast recording falters is in demonstrating how poorly utilized she is. Still, her contributions to “The Story of the Tucks” and “My Most Beautiful Day” are vibrant and nuanced, so we are grateful for whatever time we get with her.
Tuck Everlasting may have only survived for a mere 39 performances at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre, but like the titular family, the musical stands to live on in perpetuity. Time will wave its magical hands, absolving those who didn’t embrace the show initially, thereby giving this musical the longevity it deserves. This cast recording will serve as the catalyst for that enduring magic. Buy it…spend some time with it. It’s better than you thought it would be. You may even find it magical and a lasting treasure of your cast album collection.