Bored by her white-picket-fence life, young Winnie Foster longs to find adventure. She does, with the Tuck family. But what magic lies behind their never-ending youth?
The fifth production of Valley Youth Theatre’s 30th anniversary season, “Tuck Everlasting” is based on a children’s classic by Natalie Babbitt first published in 1975. It ran on Broadway in 2016, after twice being made into a movie — first in 1981 and then in 2002.
In Babbitt’s story, Winnie comes to realize she must fight to protect the Tucks’ secret from those who would do anything in order to live forever. And she faces a choice. Should she return to her former life, or join the Tucks on their endless journey? Is immortality a blessing or a curse?
Directing “Tuck Everlasting” is Bobb Cooper, producing artistic director, who is celebrating 23 years with VYT. Why did he choose to present the Arizona premiere of this show?
“It falls in a special springtime slot that has become a tradition of the past several years of producing large, heartwarming Broadway shows that touch audiences’ hearts even deeper because of the intimacy of our theater,” he explains. And because this is a milestone 30th season, Cooper wanted to offer VYT audiences “something they had never seen live on stage in Phoenix.”
Twenty-three Valley performers, all between the ages of 7 and 19, make up the cast. Playing Winnie is 14-year-old Lainey Kenly in her first VYT role. An eighth-grader at St. Theresa Catholic School in Phoenix, she has appeared as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” and is part of a HyRev performance troupe at Arizona Broadway Theatre. She also played Marty in Scottsdale Desert Stages’ “Grease.”
Lainey says “Tuck Everlasting” is her favorite musical of all time. “I love the music and the characters, especially Winnie’s songs and lust for life.”
Jesse, the youngest of the Tuck family, is played by Riley Thornton. This is the eleventh VYT show for Riley, who is 15 and a freshman at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert. He also played Zacky Price in Hale Centre Theatre’s “Big Fish.”
Riley likes that his character “is very dynamic. He seems like a mess-around kind of guy, but really he is serious and sentimental towards others.” What Riley wants the audience to take away is “that time is a very precious thing in life and you should cherish it for as long as you live.”
Hayden Skaggs, 16, plays the Man in the Yellow Suit, the story’s main antagonist and someone who is in search of the fountain of youth. This is Hayden’s fifth VYT production. A junior at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Hayden also appeared as Mitch Mahoney in Desert Stages’ “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and Rev. Shaw Moore in Greasepaint’s “Footloose.”
Hayden says he auditioned for “Tuck Everlasting” “because the music is very catchy, and the character I play, although he’s evil, he has a ton of charisma.” The real message of this show? “That life should always be lived to its fullest.”
The show — playing weekends April 5-21 at Valley Youth Theatre, 525 N. First St. in Phoenix — features lighting design by Jeff Davis, sound design by Brian Honsberger, scenic design by Dori Brown, musical direction by Tristan Peterson-Steinert, choreography by Nathalie Velasquez and original costumes by Karol Cooper, VYT’s resident costume designer.
A lot goes into putting on a theater production like “Tuck Everlasting.” By opening night, Cooper says, the actors, orchestra and creative team will all have put in some 200 hours of rehearsal time, all contributing to what he calls “the magic that is Valley Youth Theatre.”
“The inventive songs, elaborate dance numbers and profound storyline of ‘Tuck Everlasting’ are truly driving the talents of our cast, crew and designers to turn out what I think is going to be a remarkable production,” Cooper says.