By Sarah Nigbor
PRESCOTT – Theater goers are in for a treat when “Tuck Everlasting” takes the stage at the Prescott Performing Arts Center this weekend. Director Thomas Speltz felt this was the right year to bring this mesmerizing story to life.
Speltz said “Tuck Everlasting” has been on his list to direct since the musical debuted on Broadway in 2016. He grew up reading the book by Natalie Babbitt and watching the 2002 film starring Alexis Bledel.
“I’ve know the story for a long time,” Speltz said. “It’s a beautiful story and when it came time to talk about this year’s show, it felt right.”
The story follows 11-year-old Winnie Foster, who lives in Tree Gap, N.H., as she meets an unusual
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family named the Tucks. She's been yearning for adventure, but when she's learns of the Tucks' magic immortality, she's confronted with the option of living forever. The musical follo ws her journey to discover and understand what it actually means to live forever or "ride the wheel of life." "The Tucks are immortal and we learn how they came to be immortal," Speltz said. "The four Tucks have had very dierent experiences over last 100 years being immortal, so Winnie gets their dierent perspectives, the pros and the cons, the good and the bad." Speltz hopes the audience leaves the theater inspired to step back out into the world feeling more confident, energetic and passionate about life.
"I think it's a really universal piece in that what it explores is what it actually means to live a fulfilled life," Speltz said. "What I think audiences will take from it is, or I hope will, is they will use this opportunity to reflect on how they're livin g their life. A gentle reminder that our time on this earth is limited. We pass on our experiences to our children and we move on." Nothing is forever, and the in the wake of the pandemic, people are more aware of their own mortality, he added. It's more important now than ever to "ride the wheel of life" with purpose, intention, compassion and love.
While the 20 actors and three crew members have been preparing since mid-January, Speltz made the decision last June to stage "Tuck Everlasting." He began the process of licensing, gathering materials and prepping for rehearsals and design. He has been with the PHS theater program since 2017.
"I like to do pieces that will be challenging for the actors and bringing obscure things to the table, so people can see things they might not have seen," Speltz said.
The most challenging part of staging "Tuck" has also been one of the most fun: Managing the time periods of the show. The story takes place in 1893, with stints in 1808 and the earl y 1900s. Speltz didn't want the time jumps to be confusing and was diligent in ensuring that costumes and props actually existed in that time period.
"The show takes place in some very specific time periods and it was very important to me that the show be historically accurate as far as costumes and props," Speltz said.
He spent a lot of time on Google, going so far as making sure the attic clutter in one scene contained items that would have existed in 1893. As Speltz said, the devil is in the details.
"Costume designer Kathy Kohl has been an immense help in making sure that everything was time period appropriate, down to the color of the tights," Speltz said. "All the storytelling elements, it's not just about what they're singing and saying, it's also about the visual context. Being diligent about the historical accuracy has been really challenging in a fun way. I've learned so much." And as cliched as it sounds, it's also true. The most rewarding part of this process for Speltz is seeing the students grow, step up to the challenge, do the work and see the reward of their work, which is the production coming to fruition. It's satisfying for Speltz as a theater educator.
"In the grander scheme of things, three months is not super long," Speltz said. "We are fortunate enough to be in a district in which the kids are encouraged to do all of the activities they want. A lot of the leads in our show are also top athletes. We encourage them to do both. It's challenging to go from school, to go to trap, to come to rehearsal, but these kids are doing it." It's gratifying to see their confidence build as they step out of their shells. Speltzer reminds readers that theater is definitely a "team sport." Teamwork exposure and camaraderie can happen in a non-sports setting.
"Without every member of the team doing what they need to be doing, the piece doesn't happen," Speltz said.
While PHS thespians were fortunate to be able to do "Songs for a New World," a one-act musical with nine actors, last year, this year it feels good to be back with a full-length, two-act musical.
"Last year we were in-person but working under very tight conditions," Speltz said. "This year it's fantastic and feels utterly liberating to do a full production, a full two-act musical." Each year, the theater program continues to grow. In 2017, the department was staging one-hour, one-act musicals. "High School Musical" in 2020 would have been their second full-length production, but it was shut down due to COVID.
"It's nice to get back to what we were doing, because every year the program grows and gets a bit bigger," Speltz said.
"Tuck Everlasting" is appropriate for all ages, lasting two hours with one 15-minute intermission. Shows are slated for 7 p.m. Friday, April 29; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 30; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 1 at the Prescott Performing Arts Center (1010 Dexter St.) Tickets are available online at https:// prescottschooldistrict.thundertix.com/events/197610?only_ one=true or at the door. They range in price from $8-$12.
The musical is based on the book by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle and the novel by Natalie Babbitt. Music is by Chris Miller with lyrics by Nathan Tysen. "Tuck Everlasting" is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals (concordtheatricals. com).