By Rachele Stoops
Tuck Everlasting,The Stage Theater (Nebraska Communities Playhouse,) Thursday September 29, 2022, 7:30PM
Remember in sixth grade language arts class, when instead of reading whole books you’d read those little teasers from a textbook full of three or four page excerpts of stories, and since there wasn’t any internet, the only way to find and read the full book was to have an adult drop you off at the city library where you’d spend hours trying to remember the name of the book (sometimes the real name was only in tiny letters after the pretend title the textbook people gave to the excerpt) and trying to find it without having to talk to the librarian, so you just accepted that you’d live the rest of your life without reading the whole story?
It was under these questionable circumstances that I was introduced to the Tucks and their extraordinary story, written by Natalie Babbitt and first published in 1975. There was also a movie I might have seen that was made in 1981, and in 2002 Rory from Gilmore Girls was in a remake, but the details of Tuck Everlasting were always a little fuzzy in my brain.
Until I attended Nebraska Communities Playhouse‘s performance of the musical Tuck Everlasting.
The show was directed by Lincoln theatre hard-hitter Michelle Colette Ingle, who also choreographed and designed the set. Christina Docter did the music direction.
I recognized a few names in the program, but the majority of actors have the little star next to their names in the program, the star that indicates that this is the actor’s first show with Nebraska Communities Playhouse. And boy, are those little stars actually big, giant stars.
The set for Tuck Everlasting was anchored by a beautiful thin backdrop featuring floor to (high) ceiling trees. Much of the action takes place within the Tree Gap forest, which belongs to the Foster family. As the story moves from the forest to the Foster’s home to the Tuck’s home to the streets of the nearby town, cast members roll the large stage pieces on and off.
The family homes are just like you might picture little houses in the late 1800s. The Foster home is a pretty white cottage, marred only by the black mourning drape on the front door. Mr. Foster, it seems, passed away before the curtain opens, and his wife, Betsy (Anne Hatch) and her mother (Margaret Minary, in a spunky and hilarious performance) are still in their year of mourning, while Betsy’s eleven-year-old daughter, Winnie Foster (Edie Ulrich), self-described “good girl”, is just itching for some fun. Deeper in the forest, the Tuck parents, Angus (Max Antoine) and Mae (Noelle McVicar), are waiting impatiently to see their sons after ten long years. Older son Miles (Justin Chase Brown) and his brother, Jesse (Anna Hageman) show up separately – and Jesse has a surprise!
Despite a few opening night issues with mics (and the Tuck’s cabin losing a board), the performances are strong and energetic. The ensemble is almost always onstage; adding to the context of the scene, demonstrating the emotional depth through dance, or just giving the audience something to watch while the set is being changed.
The vocal performances are what really jumped out at me. Where are all these professional level talents coming from?? The music is mostly quick and a little complicated, with vocal gymnastics that aren’t usually required in a community theater performance. The cast of Tuck makes it look (and sound) easy.
There are a number of standouts, including Edie Ulrich in the lead role of Winnie Foster. She’s able to express longing and frustration, excitement and joy with a voice that fills even the extra large auditorium of the NCP.
Noelle McVicar as Mae Tuck was also fantastic. Her role is vocally demanding, and she never falters.
Mae’s husband, Angus Tuck, played by Max Antoine, stands out even without the help of the bright red long johns. His deep voice pairs beautifully with McVicar’s more classical sound, and Antoine adds character details that brought chuckles even in more dramatic scenes.
Anna Hageman sings Jesse Tuck’s songs with a joie de vivre that makes it easy to see why Winnie Foster is drawn to him.
And then there’s Amy Koepke, playing the Man in the Yellow Suit, and demonstrating again why she’s known for her extraordinary character roles. As the slimy carney barker “banana,” she is spot on.
My only suggestions for the production team are to double check the sound mix; for the characters singing in lower registers, like Hageman and Koepke, it was occasionally difficult to hear. On the other hand, the mix was sometimes a little too loud, especially when three or more actors with strong voices (so, any of them) hit a chord and held it.
Special recognition to Gracie Kathman as Hugo! I loved the Sherlock cap, and I could absolutely see Kathman as the embodiment of that kind of character. Kathman’s chemistry with the constable, played by Kelby Hansen, was fantastic.
This is definitely a not-to-be missed show, with the caliber of performance we’ve come to expect from the Nebraska Communities Playhouse in a heartwarming, family friendly tale that’s appropriate for all audiences.
And if you want to read the whole story, it’s a whole lot easier to find these days!
If you go: Tuck Everlasting plays Sept. 29th to Oct. 9th, Thur-Sat 7:30PM and Sun 2PM. To reserve tickets visit www.thestagetheater.com or contact NCP Patron Services at 402.792.8882.
Rachele Stoops is a teacher, wife, dog mom, actor, doctor, and jewelry entrepreneur. She teaches teenagers at Graduation Pathways with LPS during the week, and sells earrings at craft shows on the weekends. You can usually find her trying to remember what she was supposed to be doing. Rachele would like to thank her husband, Shane, for accompanying her to theatre performances, and for keeping her away from power tools.
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