The Fountain of Youth is just a spring hidden in the backwoods of a rural community in “Tuck Everlasting,” the G-rated, surprisingly well-crafted new Broadway musical based on Natalie Babbitt’s 1975 coming-of-age novel, which was made into a 2002 Disney film.
In the early 19th century, the Tuck family innocently drinks from the spring, leading to immortality and permanent youth but also heartbreak. Years later, 11-year-old Winnie Foster (played by 11-year-old Sarah Charles Lewis) discovers the family secret. They promptly panic and kidnap her — well, in the nicest way that you can kidnap a child. It’s more like a chaperoned camping trip.
As the cocky, teenage-looking Jesse Tuck (Andrew Keenan-Bolger of “Newsies”) tries to convince Winnie to drink the water when she turns 17 (so as to give him to a permanent life partner), the family must fight off a creepy guy in a yellow suit who wants to profit off the spring.
It’s no wonder that “Tuck Everlasting” has become a staple of children’s literature. Its whirlwind adventure plot touches upon serious themes like mortality and loss. Claudia Shear and Tim Federle’s book for the musical successfully expands upon these themes. The folksy score (by composer Chris Miller and lyricist Nathan Tysen) emphasizes a child’s sense of wonder, along with some tender spots.
This marks the fourth show currently on Broadway staged by director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw. But unlike “The Book of Mormon,” “Something Rotten!” and “Aladdin,” “Tuck Everlasting” is refreshingly free of camp and flash. He ends the show with a striking coup in the form of a poignant narrative ballet. It also allows the dance ensemble (which mostly remains in the background) to finally take center stage.
Lewis makes an assured, professional debut, capturing Winnie’s eagerness and vulnerability. You can’t help but think of Daisy Eagan, who won a Tony at 11 years old for her performance in another storybook musical, “The Secret Garden.” The cast also includes the big-voiced Carolee Carmello as Mae Tuck, Terrence Mann as the sauntering villain and a hopping and groaning mechanical toad.