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Ensemble players in Collaborative Theatre Project's "Tuck Everlasting," opening Friday, Nov. 23. Photo by Gerry Katz

Collaborative Theatre stages 'Tuck Everlasting'

The Fountain of Youth has fascinated storytellers, artists and adventurers for centuries. In “Tuck Everlasting,” a new musical based on Natalie Babbitt’s 1975 children’s novel, the Fountain of Youth is a woodland stream in New Hampshire, accidentally discovered by the Tuck family in 1863.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live forever, to be young forever, and to love forever? Winnie Foster finds the answers when she befriends the Tuck family, and they embark on a miraculous journey.

“The novel is lovely, but I think the musical is heightened even more with the music and dance elements,” says Lauren Blair, who directs Collaborative Theatre Project’s stage production. The musical version of “Tuck Everlasting” brings in fantasy, comical characters and a traveling fair.

An opening night gala will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23. Other performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 30 at the intimate community theater, 555 Medford Center. Tickets are $28, $22 for ages 55 and older, $20 for students and ages 17 and younger, and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com.

The novel “Tuck Everlasting” is a sweet story of a lonely little girl finding companionship and adventure, while foiling evil plots initiated by a sinister stranger. The 2002 Disney movie inserts teen romance, extreme wealth and breathtaking vistas, combining maudlin with majesty as only Disney can.

Musical theater may be the best way to tell the tale of love, family and the enjoyment of life. The songwriting team of Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen wrote songs that explore the story’s themes of coming of age and mortality versus eternal life. Songs such as “The Wheel” (“You can’t have living without dying”) and “Everlasting” bring added depth to ideas only touched on in Babbitt’s book. They also use different musical styles to illuminate the stories of the different characters.

“Musicals blending classic Broadway with contemporary sound seem to be the trend now,” Blair says, She gives examples of “Once” and “Hamilton.” “For our musical, it’s more of that bluegrassy, folksy vibe mixed with some Broadway sound.”

“Tuck Everlasting” premiered on Broadway in 2016.

“CTP has been trying to do newer works that nobody has seen before,” according to CTP artistic director Susan Aversa-Orrego. “The tried-and-true musicals bring in patrons because there’s a comfort level for people who know what they like. Bringing in something that is new and exciting is worth the risk we’re taking.”

“It’s really fun to do something that no one has seen before, because audiences don’t have any expectations. You can experiment and play,” Blair says. “It’s neat to get to see new musicals if you can’t get to New York every year to see a bunch on Broadway.”

Blair, who is also with Oregon Cabaret Theatre, is a well-known costume designer and educator. Leading the cast is Aubrey Campbell as Winnie Foster, with Rebecca Campbell (her real-life mother) as her mother, and Becky Durango as her grandmother. The ladies have demonstrated their stellar voices and sizeable acting skills for years throughout the Rogue Valley. Alex Boyles and Lisa-Marie Newton play Angus and Mae Tuck. Evan Sheets plays their son Jesse, and Eoghan McDowell plays his older brother Miles. Michael Williams plays the Man in Yellow, (the villain who wants to capitalize on the secret of eternal life).

Within the play there is an ensemble of dancers, as storytellers, including Hazel Marie Werfel, Zaq Wentworth, Cody Pettit, Melanie Marie, William Coyne, Joey Larimer and Jazmine Mathis. They come and go, creating multiple effects and characters and adding to moods in various ways. Main actors enter the fair, wearing distinctive costume accessories to create new characters. Musical director John Taylor will conduct a live pit orchestra, including recorded tracks, to make the production more robust.

“It’s got a little adventure, some magic, some mystery, a lot of heart, it is kid friendly,” Blair says. “It’s a universally enjoyable show.”

“It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays,” Averso-Orrego says. “It has a little something for everybody.”

“I hope watching Winnie go on her journey will energize people to go out and live their fullest life,” Blair adds. “That’s the message of Babbitt’s novel, and I think that’s the message of the musical.”

In the story, Angus Tuck tells Winnie “You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

The CTP gallery will display a series of quilts expressing the dreams and longings of local artists.

Evalyn Hansen is a writer based in Ashland. Reach her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com. Visit her blog: ashlandtheater.wordpress.com.

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