Family Matters: Unusual musical beautiful and heartbreaking

Family Matters: Unusual musical beautiful and heartbreaking

Looks can be deceiving. Jesse Tuck might look like a 17-year-old boy, but he’s far from it. He’s 102 — and he has found the secret to eternal youth.

That’s the hook for “Tuck Everlasting,” a musical based on the popular 1975 children’s book by Natalie Babbitt. It is not, however, the message of the story, according to Braeden Barlow, who plays Jesse in the Pilot Arts production opening April 26.

“The moral is to live life fully, to get the whole experience,” the 19-year-old actor says. “Make the most of every day while you can.”

Pilot Arts founder Missy Speer Gipson says she remembered the book, and she knew it had that “kernel of humanity and heart” she wanted for her spring production. “That’s what appealed to me as a creator,” she says. The musical opened on Broadway in April of 2016 and ran only a month, but Gipson says the songs have a uniquely appealing quality — a sort of Americana/folk feel with an orchestral accompaniment. “It’s not Rodgers and Hammerstein,” she says, although the show will have a full 10-piece orchestra.

The book also drew Anna Marie Blum to the discover the movie — released in 2002 — and then the musical. It was love at first listen, but not her introduction to theater. She started in church productions at the age of 9, appeared in “High School Musical Jr.” at Providence Classical Christian Academy in Rogers when she was 13 and spent weeks learning the song “Good Girl, Winnie Foster” to audition for the role of Winnie, the 11-year-old heroine of “Tuck Everlasting.”

“I never thought I’d get the role,” the 17-year-old says. “But I love working with a cast that’s different ages, not everyone the same age. It makes the show feel genuine.”

In the story, Winnie meets Jesse in the woods, as he’s drinking from the stream that keeps him young. As their relationship grows, he explains the spring’s magical properties and asks her if she’ll drink from it when she is 17.

“It’s not a romance,” assures Barlow, “but it’s a beautiful friendship between two people who are very much alike. And he is so lonely, tortured by the fact he’s never going to die.”

Miles, the eldest Tuck son, delivers the gut punch of the story, explaining to Winnie that he once had a wife and child. When they discovered his secret, she left and took the little boy with her, he says, admonishing Winnie that seeing the Eiffel Tower or the pyramids of Egypt isn’t nearly as important as seeing your child grow up.

The role is played by Michael Myers, who also appeared in the Pilot Arts debut, “Footloose,” and it’s taken him down some painful roads to find Miles’ soul.

“He’s heartbroken, afraid he’ll always be alone,” Myers says. “I can only express something I’ve already felt for it to be genuine. I’m kind of a ‘lone ranger,’ and so is Miles. Exposing those emotions can sometimes be scary, but you have to train yourself to use them, then put them back on the shelf.”

The production has drawn its company from throughout the region. Barlow is from Bentonville, Blum from Bentonville, Myers from Fayetteville and Mack Burke, the villain, from Fort Smith. Shiloh Jones, from Rogers, and Kurt Marine from Fort Smith play the parents, Angus and Mae Tuck.

“My family and I attended [‘Footloose’] and loved the venue, energy and joy,” Marine says. “It’s worth the drive to be part of the troupe because it is rare these days to collaborate with new acquaintances in such an encouraging and challenging environment. I’m a believer in the value Pilot Arts brings to the community!”



‘Tuck Everlasting’

WHEN — 7 p.m. April 26-27; 2 & 7 p.m. April 28; 2 p.m. April 29

WHERE — Arkansas Air and Military Museum at Drake Field in Fayetteville

COST — $10-$18



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