Credit: Joan Marcus

Tuck Everlasting (Broadway)

There’s one salient takeaway from Tuck Everlasting, the lackluster new Broadway musical based on Natalie Babbitt’s beloved 1975 children’s novel, and it has to do with wardrobe: You can’t trust a man dressed in yellow.

Of course, as soon as we see the Man in the Yellow Suit (Les Miserables’ original Javert, Terrence Mann) — imagine Jim Carrey’s The Mask costume, sans green face, with a late-19th-century twist — we know he’s the villain. He might as well be twirling a mustache and shooting up a saloon. But just to emphasize his nefarious nature, and, let’s be honest, to get a few much-needed laughs, songwriters Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen (2010’s Off-Broadway mining musical The Burnt Part Boys) have devoted an entire vaudeville-esque number to the devious golden hue, delivered by comic-relief characters Constable Joe (Fred Applegate) and aspiring deputy Hugo (Michael Wartella). “A man who is fondest/of suits that are jaundiced/puts the yolk on him and the joke on you,” deadpans Joe. You’ll groan… but you’ll chuckle.

Tuck Everlasting is a beautifully drawn, evocative tale about an eternal-life-giving spring, the trapped-in-time family who drank from it, and a curious young girl who stumbles upon both. Little wonder it’s been made into movies twice. Who doesn’t love a plucky preteen protagonist? Plus: magic water. Yet on stage, this fantasy-driven story remains stubbornly earthbound.

Not that Tuck isn’t trying its darndest: The actors are appealing — particularly Andrew Keenan-Bolger, impishly charming as the “17-year-old” Jesse Tuck, and the extraordinary Sarah Charles Lewis as our intrepid 11-year-old heroine, Winnie Foster, who’s bound to appeal to viewers around the same age. But they’re practically drowning in a flood of banalities and a deluge of clichés. Matriarch Mae Tuck (the always lovely Carolee Carmello) sings of “a night in November/that I will remember.” And later: “Don’t be afraid of death, Winnie,” dad Angus Tuck (Michael Park) intones wisely. “Be afraid of not being truly alive.”

The creators have made the Man in the Yellow Suit a carnival barker — cue the crazy circus scene! — but that seems little more than an excuse to incorporate a flashy production number. (At least it gives Gregg Barnes the chance to turn out some colorful crazy-quilt costumes.) And director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw (Something Rotten!, Aladdin, The Book of Mormon) does his best to keep things moving — and moving and moving and moving; ensemble members swirl and twirl on stage at a dizzying pace. His best work actually comes in a delightful penultimate-scene dream ballet, which packs more plot than the entire preceding two hours. It’s as if someone sprinkled magical spring water over the Broadhurst Theatre stage. C

Tuck Everlasting (Broadway)
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