Not for nothing, I jumped for joy the day I learned Tuck Everlasting was going to be the next musical my students and I got to work on. When I applied for rights to produce Tuck at the public high school where I teach and direct in Alexandria, Minnesota, I wasn’t holding my breath. Our school is relatively small. We’re 120 miles away from the nearest city. There are thousands of successful school theatre programs that Samuel French could have asked to pilot Tuck, many of which are in our state and surrounding region. So when the email granting rights pinged my inbox, I texted my favorite people WE GOT TUCK, then I jumped around.
If you’re not familiar, let me introduce you to your next love: set in early 1900s Tree Gap, New Hampshire, Tuck Everlasting is the story of eleven-year-old Winnie Foster. Natalie Babbitt wrote the original young adult novel, which was adapted for the stage by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, with music by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen. Winnie runs away from home and meets the Tuck family, who have drunk from the spring of eternal life. Winnie learns about the spring and must ultimately decide if she wants to live forever with her new friends or return home to live one incredible life. The vibe is whimsical and the characters endearing. The message is heartfelt without turning saccharine. There’s a giant tree and a white picket fence. It’s a dreamy world to work in.
To clarify the jumping thing: I had never seen Tuck Everlasting, nor had my students. But I had fallen in love with the show, the way you do when you’re a teenager and a musical means everything to you and you just get the characters and you blast the cast recording in your kitchen where your mom walks in just as you’re whisper-singing the end of the ballad through your artistic tears. You are connected to this musical somewhat adjacently: through memorizing recordings, scouring the web for images and videos, and reading everything from the perusal to other, more fortunate theatergoers’ accounts of seeing the show. Anyone who has fallen in love with a musical knows what I mean. This love is about something that we can’t articulate, something that — sentimental as it may sound — has to do with our hearts and our dreams, with who we are as humans. This had been my experience as a high school sophomore in 1994 when I discovered Les Misérables, then RENT two years later — before I became an adult with little room in my life for being in love with a musical. Before I became a teacher and director and rarely had time to even like a musical before the business of actually making the musical took priority.
Yet, over two decades later, I fell into a deep love with Tuck Everlasting. Before Tuck, I directed twenty-four high school plays and musicals, but never before had my love for a show been so palpable. Twenty-four shows meant there weren’t a lot of production elements I hadn’t seen. Big dance numbers after which the actors can’t breathe but are required to sing, à la “Partner in Crime”? Check. A villain who is understandable-yet-quirky-yet-believable when his actions take a darker turn (see: The Man in the Yellow Suit)? Check. A boat onstage (Angus and Winnie fish from one in “The Wheel”)? Check. A dream sequence ballet, like the beautiful and moving “The Story of Winnie Foster”? Check.
Musicals are musicals, but Tuck Everlasting is different. Maybe it’s the buoyant, earworm-y score. Maybe it’s the nod to the Lucy Maud Montgomery-esque characters of our childhood literary adventures. Maybe it’s the the dazzling punch of the story, which lands with an ugly-cry-inducing, feel-good ending (and how is that even possible?!). Even now, I can’t quite put a finger on what exactly makes Tuck Everlasting a musical you’ll fall in love with, but I know what happens when you do.
Every person involved in our show fell in their own way. We loved each other. We loved the challenge of making the story come to life. There were jokes about wigs and extra dance rehearsals. We wept in solidarity every time Young Winnie and Old Winnie danced in tandem near the end. I imagine this is the realization Shear, Federle, Miller, and Tysen hoped we’d get to, whether we’re calling light cues, singing from a tree, or we’re that high school sophomore sitting in a dark theater swooning at the dance lifts, the uplifting message, the infectious score, the frog — the whole of the thing. They remind us we don’t need to label “time” or know how or why our “partners in crime” are the people we want to make our lives with. Like Winnie, we just need to “ride the wheel plenty, for all that it’s worth.” It’s not about why we fell in love, it’s that so many lovely things happened to so many people because of it, and we’re all the better for it.
On closing night my students wrote notes with favorite show memories, crammed them in a mason jar, and gave them to me as a memento. Many students cited learning dance numbers or times when everyone had a good laugh. One of them wrote, “The day we knew what show we were getting to do,” followed by a hand-drawn heart. That is a theatre kid in love with Tuck Everlasting. You’re next — I hope there’s jumping for joy.
To learn more about performing Tuck Everlasting at your theatre or school, click here.
To purchase the script, click here.