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