By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
If “the music!” is the answer, what is the question?
It seems wise to consult musical theatre experts. Janice Flower and Jackie Pooke, director/artistic director and choreographer respectively, are on the phone explaining their attraction to the semi-obscure Broadway musical opening Thursday in a St. Albert Children’s Theatre production. Tuck Everlasting is a highly unusual musical version of an award-winning 1975 novel for young readers by the American writer Natalie Babbitt. And it got overlooked in its short-lived Broadway run in 2016, partly because that was the year of the Hamilton sweep at the Tony Awards.
“Jackie and I share an office, and we have soundtracks on all the time,” says Flower of the house music in their Arden Theatre headquarters. They heard Tuck Everlasting, and were instantly struck. “We ordered the script right away,” says Pooke.
In Tuck Everlasting, 11-year-old Winnie, a rural New Hampshire kid whose father has died, follows the sound of a music box into the woods, discovers a magical spring and the immortal family who’ve been drinking from it for a century — with mixed results on the happiness scale. And there’s a villain, the venal Man In The Yellow Suit, who’s eager to get his mitts on the water and bottle it.
Flower and Pooke describe the score by Chris Miller (music) with Nathan Tysen (lyrics) as an appealing combination of pop and “folkloric,” with a Celtic flavour. Says Flower, “it reminds me a little (musical) The Secret Garden, and with some musical theatre vaudeville duets…. One of the thing I love about it is that the ensemble is critical to the piece, a sort of Greek chorus (of townspeople).”
As usual with the St. Albert troupe, unafraid of tackling the most full-bodied Broadway musical, the cast is large (well, huge, by the standards of the era). The unfazed-able Flower, though, doesn’t consider 30 actors (ages 10 to 23, plus one 30-something alumnus) out of the ordinary. This is the unusual part: more than half are boys.
The story is unusually philosophical and resonant for both a young-reader-type book, and the musical spun from it. It touches on the meaning of life, the passage of time vs. the idea of the eternal, so desirable in theory and maybe less so in practice. If you got the chance to live forever, would you snap it up? “The message of the story is the life (lived) not the years,” says Flower. “Technology is changing us; everything’s about saving time. And ironically we find ourselves with less and less of it…. People aren’t making the same connections as when we grew up.”
Poole, who has choreographed the movement epilogue “that tells the story of Winnie’s life,” echoes the thought. “This is about kids just being kids…. Now by Grade 10, they’re pressured to know how exactly how they want to spend their lives. And, really, it’s OK to be a kid and enjoy your time. Enjoy your life, enjoy the people in your life, whatever amount of time you have. That’s the message! It’s very positive….”
The kids in the unique St. Albert theatre company “devote 15 to 20 hours a week to something they love….” says Flower. Not everyone will go on to make theatre a career, of course. But that doesn’t negate the life-long reverb of theatre training. “Theatre is about how to communicate, to listen, to empathize. It’s so important right now.… I’ve often heard from interviewers that (theatre kids) stand out because they look you in the eye; it’s the ability to carry on a conversation with an adult.”
“To meet people to have a face to face conversation, to work through problems, not just Send or Copy and Paste,” says Pooke. That’s live theatre.
Theatre: St. Albert Children’s Theatre
Directed by: Janice Flower, with Jackie Pooke (choreography) and Janet Nichol (musical direction)
Where: Arden Theatre, St. Albert
Running: Nov. 22 to Dec. 2