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‘Tuck Everlasting’ review: Musical charmer presents real dilemma

Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Sarah Charles Lewis in Broadway's

Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Sarah Charles Lewis in Broadway's "Tuck Everlasting." Credit: Joan Marcus

WHAT “Tuck Everlasting”

WHERE Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St.

INFO $59-$147; 212-239-6200, tuckeverlastingmusical.com

BOTTOM LINE Enchanting, modest musical about immortality.

From the small world of unexpected pleasures comes “Tuck Everlasting,” a gentle but hardly lightweight fantasy musical about an 11-year-old girl and the prospect of eternal life.

Perhaps the least-expected part of this unpretentious sweetheart is director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw, the dynamo whose three other current shows are the Broadway antithesis of modest: “Something Rotten,” “Aladdin” and “The Book of Mormon.”

This touching low-tech show is for an underserved niche audience — families who want to be thoughtfully charmed for a few hours after being hyper-entertained by “Wicked” and “Matilda.” The story, adapted by Claudia Shear and Tim Federle, involves a young and restless but good girl named Winnie (Sarah Charles Lewis in an impressively un-show-bizzy Broadway debut) and her life-changing encounter with a family that, years earlier, drank from a magic spring and will never age.

We are in a territory somewhere between “Brigadoon” and “Into the Woods.” The functional music by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen don’t shy far from the Scottish-tinged folksiness of the former while, alas, some jaunty patter songs sound a bit too much like the latter.

We are at the beginning and the end of the 19th century, a place owned by Winnie’s recently widowed mother and graced by wood nymphs who twirl around in filmy clothes and basic ballet steps that we alone can see.

Also, perhaps best of all, the mother of the bewitched — or is it hexed? — family is portrayed by the spellbinding Carolee Carmello (“Finding Neverland”), whose copper-shaded voice is one of the truly magical things in New York theater.

This mother and her bored husband (Michael Park) live in a cabin that suggests both gingerbread and a junk shop. (The endearingly inventive sets are by Walt Spangler.) Afraid to attract attention, the two sons have scattered, but return every 10 years for a reunion.

It is during such a reunion that Winnie, a runaway, meets Tuck (the ideally young-at-heart Andrew Keenan-Bolger), the 17-year-old son who wants her to drink the water when she turns 17 and join him. Meanwhile a mean carnival barker in a hideous yellow suit (Terrence Mann, overdoing just a hissy bit) schemes to exploit the water, while a detective (Fred Applegate, seriously deadpan hilarious) comes to the rescue. Or does he? Will Winnie choose immortality and adventure or the alleged wonders of the life cycle back home? Someone onstage says we don’t have to live forever, just live. I feel the same about the future of this enchanting long-shot of a show.

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