Reviewed by George Basler

The musical Tuck Everlasting touches on an age-old theme: Is immortality all one hopes it will be? Setting the theme aside, the show is a small, intimate one with charm and likeability as its main selling points.

Based on a much-loved children’s novel, the musical opened this past weekend (Feb. 4-6) at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage in Johnson City in a fine production, directed by Scott Fisher for SRO Productions III. It continues this weekend (Feb. 11-13).

Tuck Everlasting can accurately be described as old-fashioned. And that’s a compliment. The show is homespun and sweet-natured but never mawkish. In an age of snark and schadenfreude, this tenderness is a welcome relief.

The story centers around 11-year-old Winnie Foster (Alice Richardson), who lives with her mother and grandmother (Maureen Dancesia and Lonna Pierce respectively) in a small town in 19th century America.

Longing for adventure, the somewhat rebellious Winnie runs away from home and meets the Tuck family (Josh Schull, Shirley Goodman, Austin Kiley and Joe Hoffman), who have been living undiscovered in a cabin in the woods owned by Winnie’s mother.

The Tucks have inadvertently discovered a spring with water that makes them eternal, and Winnie must make a choice whether or not to drink. Along the way the Man in the Yellow Suit– a sleazy carny with a true mean streak (John Penird) — shows up to steal the land, bottle the spring’s water, and make a zillion dollars in the process.

Richardson, who is 11 herself, is the centerpiece of the show and makes an auspicious debut in her first lead role. The sixth grader at Whitney Point Middle School has a commanding stage presence for someone so young and is totally natural in the role. Most importantly, she avoids the annoying, over-the-top cuteness that sometimes plagues young actors.

Moreover, Richardson has quite the singing voice for someone her age. She has 10 songs, either solo numbers or duets. That’s a heavy lift for anyone, much less an 11-year-old. Richardson acquits herself well. She also has solid chemistry with Schull, who engagingly plays the Tucks’ 17-year-old son, Jesse, as he becomes Winnie’s “partner in crime.”

Tuck Everlasting has 10 featured players and a 15-member ensemble. Fisher skillfully directs this small army of performers so that the action moves smoothly from scene to scene. Credit also goes to the show’s three choreographers: Anne Trebilcock, Kaylea Lockwood and Mackenna Gill.

All the actors get their turn in the spotlight as they perform a score that features 23 songs, or reprises. While the up-tempo songs — with music by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen — are pleasing, the show’s ballads give Tuck Everlasting its emotional weight.

In one ballad, “My Most Beautiful Day,” Goodman and Hoffman recall Ma and Pa Tuck’s early romance. In another, “Time,” Kiley, who plays the Tuck’s eldest son, remembers a painful episode from his earlier life. Finally, there is a touching duet, “The Wheel,” between Richardson and Hoffman that sums up the show’s message about the cycle of life.

Comic relief is provided by Pierce as Winnie’s blunt, no-nonsense grandmother and by Rich Kumpon and Sam Smith as dim-witted Constable Joe and his son, Hugo, an aspiring detective who is the “brains” of the duo.

Penird is suitably sleazy as the avaricious carny. The part is straight out a 19th century melodrama and could easily be played in a hammy manner. To his credit, Penird avoids this trap. His performance has a low-key ruthlessness that is quite effective.

 Nonetheless, the story line has a tagged-on feel to it and never generates any kind of dramatic tension. In fact, to be honest, Tuck Everlasting’s plot is paper thin. The show succeeds on poignancy and sincerity.

The best moment comes in the final scene in the form of a wordless dance number, running about 10 minutes, that takes the audience through the joys and sorrows of Winnie’s life after her adventure with the Tuck family.

 The scene, choreographed by Trebilcock and performed by 11 dancers, is an emotional triumph. What had been a pleasing and enjoyable show became profoundly moving as the dance affirms the gentle beauty of everyday life.

It’s a heartfelt and beautiful ending.

IF YOU GO: Performances of Tuck Everlasting will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m Sunday (Feb. 11-3)  at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage, 46 Willow St., Johnson City. All seats are reserved. Tickets are $25 ($23 for students and ages 62 and older). Purchase tickets at Reservations are recommended as some performances may sell out.

Due to COVID-19 regulations, mask wearing is required of all patrons. The Firehouse Stage is requiring proof of vaccination at the door and a photo ID. An exception can be made for someone who can provide a negative rapid test from the day of the performance, or a negative PCR test result from within 72 hours of showtime.