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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Tuck Everlasting’ full of life, meaning, movement in De Pere

Critic At Large

St. Norbert College Knight Theatre

Mae Tuck (Emily Helen Tomcek, left) and Winnie Foster (Emma Hutter) connect in a scene in “Tuck Everlasting” presented by St. Norbert College Knight Theatre. (Annicka Rabida)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV)

Here’s a find: “Tuck Everlasting,” a musical, as presented St. Norbert College Knight Theatre.

The show ran on Broadway briefly in 2016, and then seems to have fallen off the radar. The current production, apparently the first in this region, thus feels new.

The story is fanciful and philosophical and quite touching. One of the families in it is immortal. It is the Tuck family. And so… “Tuck Everlasting.”

Matters of life and death and time aside, the production has an artful aura. Dance with degrees of difficulty is woven in, enhancing scenes. Sometimes the dancers sing, too. The climax is a dance representation of a life, and it is fine, fine lump-in-the-throat stuff.

Seen in dress rehearsal Tuesday night in Webb Theatre of Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts, the production was “on” – cohesive and running smoothly.

Six performances lie ahead for the company made up, top to bottom, by students of all kinds of majors bent on creating a fully staged musical. College students come and go, but this organization is in its 26th year. Another way of saying it is, students have left, but the idea stuck.

Year after year, Knight Theatre tends to impress as students challenge themselves and deliver the goods.

“Tuck Everlasting” is filled with important roles. Some players are better actors than singers, but little matter because the crux of characters is there in the tale that is anything but simple.

Plays on words abound.

The first line heard is from a man who says he is “dying of thirst.” Soon, it is revealed that he will never die.

The first song is “Live Like This.” Young Winnie savors what is around her in remote New Hampshire, and she sings she “can live like this forever.” Next, one of the Tucks, the mother, Mae, laments the relentlessness of immortality and sings she “can’t live like this forever.” Such duality continues throughout the story, with concepts time being another source.

Artistic director Michael Houlihan and his creative team bring out the best in player after player, including:

Emma Hutter as Winnie Foster, a spirited 11-year-old looking to grab onto the world.

Trent Larson as Jesse Tuck, Winnie’s buddy, who has an eagle eye for trouble, and loving it.

Emily Helen Tomcek as Mae Tuck, a soulful persona trying to manage the weight of endless life.

Tanner Witthuhn as Man in the Yellow Suit, a smarmy, shifty sort from the carnival who has caught wind of the story of the place with water that gives everlasting life.

Abby Russel from the ballet corps, who dances the role of young Winnie in the climactic scene with especially wiry moves.

The list could go on, with many of the roles nicely formed in the tight-knit teamwork.

This and that: Wireless headsets are used (making hearing solid); the set features a huge tree with a sturdy platform accessed by a sturdy ladder; costuming of the dancers changes scene after (many) scene; the backstage orchestra is on the mark, with songs tending to be those that tell the story rather than being stand-alone, stop-the-show type; and bursts of energy fuel ensemble numbers.

One takeaway from “Tuck Everlasting”: It may better suit a committed collegiate company such as Knight Theatre than a commercial one.

***

Creative: Based on the novel of the same name by Natalie Babbitt: book – Claudia Shear, Tim Federlie; music – Chris Miller; lyrics – Nathan Tysen; producer – Jordan Schuman; artistic director – Michael Houlihan; pit director – Jason Holz; technical director – Kathryn Verheyden; vocal director – Nate Ortiz; scenic designer – Kathryn Verheyden; stage manager – KaCie Ley; assistant stage manager – Abby Charlier; assistant artistic director – Kylie Marsden; choreographer – Amanda Meo; assistant choreographer – Alyssa Brugger; costume designer – Stephanie Valenta; assistant costumer – Stephanie Pribyl; prop designer – Micaela Rozmarenoski; sound designer – Alan Deuchert; sound assistant – Erika Ditzman; light designer – Madalynn Kuehl; lighting assistant – Madisyn Brisbane; hair/make-up designer – Brittany Vosen; rehearsal accompanist – Elissa Ribbens; program design – Kylie Marsden, Annicka Rabida; poster design – Annicka Rabida; forest mural artist – Ben Wylie; faculty advisor – Michael Rosewall

Cast (in order of appearance):

Jesse Tuck – Trent Larson

Mae Tuck – Emily Helen Tomcek

Miles Tuck – Logan Groh

Angus Tuck – John Dicks

Winnie Foster – Emma Hutter

Man in the Yellow Suit – Tanner Witthuhn

Mother – Janelle Knick

Nana – Katherine VanDenHeuvel

Hugo – Marki Hietpas

Constable Joe – Spencer Catalano

Carny – Janie Janczakowski

Ensemble – Mason Chapman, Mallory Fritsch, Madelyn Glosny, Carly Hartenberger, Marissa Helchen, Janie Janczakowski, Emma Kindness, Andrew Lococo, Emily Martin, Maddie Pamperin, Benjamin Petroll, Abby Russel

Miles’ Son – Noah Jackson

Ballet Dancers – Abby Russel, Benjamin Petroll, Madelyn Glosny, Mallory Fritsch, Marissa Helchen, Mason Chapman

Winnie’s Son – Noah Jackson

Mae Tuck Understudy – Carly Hartenberger

Orchestra: Reed I – Noah Kuchta; reed II – Jonathan Tesch; trumpet – Charles Luoma-Mannisto; trombone – Nate Perttu; percussion I – Marquise Weatherall; percussion II – Brendan Koxlien; keyboard – Elissa Ribbens

Running time: Two hours, 20 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29, 30 and 31; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1; 2 p.m. Feb. 2

Info: snc.edu.tickets

***

Musical selections

Act I

“Live Like This” – Winnie, Mae, Miles, Man in the Yellow Suit, Ensemble

“Good Girl, Winnie Foster” – Winnie, Mother, Ensemble

“Join the Parade” – Man in the Yellow Suit, Ensemble

“Good Girl, Winnie Foster” (Reprise) – Winnie, Ensemble

“Top of the World” – Winnie, Jessie, Ensemble

“Hugo’s First Case” – Hugo

“Hugo’s First Case” (Reprise)  – Hugo, Constable Joe

 “The Story of the Tucks” – Mae, Miles, Jesse, Winnie

“My Most Beautiful Day” – Mae

“Join the Parade” (Reprise) – Man in the Yellow Suit, Ensemble

“Partner in Crime” – Jesse, Winnie, Ensemble

“Seventeen” – Jesse, Winnie, Man in the Yellow Suit, Ensemble

Act II

“Everything’s Golden” – Man in the Yellow Suit, Ensemble

“Seventeen” (Reprise) – Winnie

“Time” – Miles

“Time” (Reprise) – Mae, Jesse, Angus,Miles

“Everything’s Golden” (Reprise) – Man in the Yellow Suit

“You Can’t Trust a Man” – Constable Joe, Hugo

“The Wheel” – Angus, Winnie, Ensemble

“Story of the Man in the Yellow Suit” – Man in the Yellow Suit

“Everlasting” – Winnie

“The Story of Winnie Foster” – Ballet Dances, Orchestra

“The Wheel” (Reprise) – Jesse, Mae, Miles, Angus, Ensemble

***

THE VENUE: The 184-seat Neil and Mary Webb Memorial Theatre is the smaller of two theaters in St. Norbert College’s Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts. The space has an amphitheater feel with its sloped seating area. The stage is one-of-a-kind thrust stage, meaning it “thrusts” into the audience space. A traditional proscenium stage has a flat front and usually has curtains. A trust stage rarely uses curtains. People in front rows can practically reach out and touch performers when the performers are on the stage lip. Any seat in the theater is close to the action.

THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb was president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He earlier headed the St. Norbert psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in an airplane crash in California in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee. That was shortly before the Hall of Fine Arts was to be remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had a lot of friends in the community and had the reputation, so his name was used to raise funds for the theater.

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