Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Tuck Everlasting
Valley Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The Toxic Avenger and Let the Right One In

Jessica Wastchak, Andy Wissink, Noah Delgado,
Lainey Kenly, and Riley Thornton

Photo by Memories by Candace
The musical Tuck Everlasting opened on Broadway in 2016, the same season as the juggernaut powerhouse Hamilton. So, it's no wonder it only ran for a little over a month. While the musical adaptation of Natalie Babbitt's 1975 book of the same name isn't completely successful, this warm, spirited show deserves a second life in regional theatre. Valley Youth Theatre's production has an impressive cast and rich creative aspects which results in a heartwarming presentation of this charming, family-friendly musical.

The plot follows the story of an 11-year-old girl named Winnie Foster whose father passed away a year before. She desperately seeks adventure outside of her small town of Treegap, New Hampshire, or just the chance to go to the local fair. One night she decides to run away from home and, deep in the forest, sees 17-year-old Jesse Tuck drinking from a spring. When Winnie also tries to drink from the spring Jessie stops her and later, after meeting his brother and parents, discovers that the entire Tuck family are now immortal after drinking from this magic spring many years ago. From the time she spends with the Tuck family, Winnie finds friendship and the adventure she desired but also has to decide if she wants to drink from the spring to live forever. However, evil lurks just outside the forest in the form of the Man in Yellow, who is on the hunt for the Tucks and their secret.

Bookwriters Claudia Shear and Tim Federle follow fairly close to the plot of the original novel and while the score, with music by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen, is folksy, bright, enjoyable and charming, it also isn't entirely memorable. While the script may be slight, it doesn't always go where you think it will and has an ending that is quite poignant.

Director Bobb Cooper has found a talented cast of youth actors to portray Winnie, the Tuck family, and a few small supporting characters. Copper also does quite well in staging the action to derive both emotion and humor. Nathalie Velasquez's choreography is infused with charm and elegance. Her extended dance sequence that comes toward the end of the musical is full of beauty and completely understandable with so much meaning derived from the dance steps even though a single word is never said. Music director Tristan Peterson-Steinert achieves exceptional sounds from the large cast and superb 16-piece orchestra. Creative aspects are top notch, with the combination of gorgeous scenic design by Dori Brown and Jeff Davis' lush lighting evoking beautiful stage images. Karol Cooper's costume designs are a gorgeous spectrum of earth tones and crisp and bright colors, and the sound design by Brian Honsberger ensures every word and music note is clear.

Lainey Kenly is spunky and charming as Winnie. As Jesse, Riley Thornton is full of fire and an adventurous sense that also includes moments of recklessness. Andy Wissink is Jesse's responsible brother Miles, while Noah Delgado and Jessica Wastchak are both thoughtful, tender and caring as the Tuck parents. All five have beautiful singing voices that shine. Hayden Skaggs is mysterious and slightly scary as the Man in the Yellow Suit, while Reese Cantu and Parker Gates are quite funny as Hugo and his father, Constable Joe. 16-year-old Gates does an exceptional job of portraying a character who is many years older. Jessica Fink and Taylor Underwood round out the cast as Winnie's stern mother and lovable Nana.

While Tuck Everlasting may not be a completely perfect musical, as the score could be better and the story could have a bit more intrigue and some added plot twists, Valley Youth Theatre's production is full of charm, heart and beauty, with a talented cast and rich creative aspects that effectively show the complexity of the world and the importance of making the right choices in the neverending circle of life.

Tuck Everlasting, through April 21, 2019, at Valley Youth Theatre, 525 North First Street, Phoenix AZ. Ticket and performance information can be found at or by calling 602-253-8188.

Director: Bobb Cooper
Choreographer: Nathalie Velasquez
Music Director: Tristan Peterson-Steinert
Scenic Designer: Dori Brown
Costume Designer: Karol Cooper
Lighting Designer: Jeff Davis
Sound Design: Brian Honsberger
Production Stage Manager: Joycelin Jacobs-Schwartz

Male Ensemble: Michael Ayala
Hugo: Reese Cantu
Angus: Noah Delgado
Mother: Jessica Fink
Male Ensemble: Alexander Flores
Constable Joe: Parker Gates
Thomas / Little Boy: Luca Grasso
Female Ensemble: Tatum Grell
Winnie: Lainey Kenly
Male Ensemble: Graham McLemore
Male Ensemble: Noah McNeil
Female Ensemble: Kylie Merrill
Female Ensemble: Anna Mettes
Female Ensemble: Brooke Nielsen
Female Ensemble: Erin Deines Schumacher
Man in the Yellow Suit: Hayden Skaggs
Male Ensemble: Prescott Smidt
Jesse: Riley Thornton
Nana: Taylor Underwood
Male Ensemble: Justin Vaught
Mae Tuck: Jessica Wastchak
Miles: Andy Wissink
Female Ensemble: Ryley Grace Youngs

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