Friday, April 5, 2019

Discovering the Truth about a Life Well Lived - talking to the director and cast of TUCK EVERLASTING at Valley Youth Theatre

Lainey Kenley and cast
photo by Memories by Candace

by Julia Bashaw

The musical Tuck Everlasting is based on the American children’s novel by Natalie Babbitt published in 1975. Four years after the musical first premiered, Tuck Everlasting opens tonight at Valley Youth Theatre in the heart of Downtown Phoenix. Members of the cast, who are all under the age of 20, and director Bobb Cooper took a break in the middle of rehearsals to talk about the show.

Tuck Everlasting follows a little girl named Winnie Foster who just wants an adventure. Desperate to go to the fair, she sneaks out of the house and meets Jesse Tuck in the woods. From there she meets the rest of the Tuck family; the mother Mae, father Angus, and their other son Miles. But the Tucks are no ordinary family, they have a secret. There is a running water spring in the Treegap forest that grants eternal life to anyone who drinks from it. Accidentally, many years ago the Tuck Family drank from the spring and they are all now immortal.

“It’s an incredible musical about what one may think would be a great thing, but is it really?” questioned the director Bobb Cooper. “Is the grass always greener on the other side? It is told in such a beautiful way, With beautiful music a beautiful story, strong characterization and a lot of heart. I think audiences will walk away with a different understanding of what eternal life may be about.”

This season is a very special one for Valley Youth Theatre because it is their 30th anniversary. Cooper wanted to make this season stand out and celebrate the hard work and dedication this theatre has proven in the past couple of decades. And this musical is just one of many in their incredible line-up.

“Five of our six shows are brand new with multiple Arizona Premiers,” stated Cooper. “I wanted to do ‘firsts’ for Valley Youth Theatre, things that we haven’t done before. VYT celebrating 30 years has been a miraculous journey.”

Riley Thorton, Jessica Wasrchak, Lainey Kenley, Andy Wissink
photo by Memories by Candace
This is an all youth cast and the lead female role, Winnie Foster, is being performed Lainey Kenley who is 14-years-old. She performs alongside 15-year-old Riley Thornton who plays Jesse Tuck, 15-year-old Reese Cantu who plays Hugo, and 16-year-old Hayden Skaggs who plays The Man in the Yellow Suit. Each of them gave some insight into who their characters are.

“Winnie, she’s lived in a household her whole life and just lived a certain way,” Kenely explained. “She’s very enclosed, her family is very strict and she doesn’t get to do many things. Finally, she gets very fed up, decides that she wants to go on an adventure, and runs away.”

“My character, Jesse Tuck, is very immature in the sense that he can longer grow in maturity because he drank from the spring,” Riley Thornton detailed. “He is very ignorant because he doesn’t realize it is actually a curse. Other than that, he is very outgoing, adventurous, and he just loves to have fun.”

“Hugo is an awkward, shy, nervous 15-year-old,” stated Reese Cantu. “Everything he does and says, his father will immediately respond and say ‘Hugo if I wanted your opinion I’d ask for it’. His father never approves of Hugo and he is just searching for that approval from his father. Hugo’s whole goal is to be the junior deputy because his father is the constable. He has a deputy handbook that never leaves his side and all he wants to do is make his father proud.”

“The Man in the Yellow Suit is comically evil and greedy, that it is so unrealistic how evil he is and I think that’s why audiences are going to love him so much,” smiled Hayden Skaggs. “He is so over the top and will go to extremes to get what he wants. He has lived his life to the best of his ability but he still doesn't feel like he's gotten anything out of that life.”

Hayden Skaggs and cast
photo by Memories by Cadence

The cast has 21 characters and according to Cooper, 130 young adults auditioned. Something about this show really resonated with them and brought them to audition. For these four young actors, a common theme that encouraged them to come audition was the music.

“The music is just so great,” smiled Kenley. “This has been my favorite show for a while actually, and Winnie Foster has been my dream role. I was very excited to audition. I don’t think it has gotten the credit it deserves because it is a really great show. ”

“Personally, the music is beautiful,” Thornton said.”And the story is beautiful, it's such a good show that no one really does because it’s not really well recognized. It didn’t have a very long wrong on Broadway which is really sad, I think a lot of people missed out because this show is truly fantastic.”

“My mom made me read this book in elementary school,” began Cantu. “So I knew it already in the back of my head, and when it got turned into a musical I took a look at the music and I found a video of it on YouTube. I found Hugo who isn’t in the book and thought he’d be a role I could play. Hugo sings some pretty high notes so I worked with my vocal coach. She said I had a chance at Hugo and I auditioned and got it.”

“I auditioned for it because I just thought the music was so good and so catchy,” Skaggs stated. “I think it's a show that if done right, and I think this production is done extremely well, it can move a lot of audiences and make them realize certain things they may not have thought about before such as the preciousness of time.”

Reese Cantu
photo by Memories by Cadence
Cooper wasn’t surprised with the talent he received for this show. After 23 years of working at VYT, he says that the talent in Arizona for young people has never waned. The young adults that come through VYT continue to be inspiring and extraordinary.

“I think that there is a lot of heart in this,” explained Cooper. “Young actors enjoy every minute being on that stage, every minute of that creative process. It's not a job for them, it's more of an adventure. It's a part of being who they are and growing up, learning about themselves and learning about themselves through playing other characters and relationships with other characters. It's challenging, it's beautiful, it's great storytelling through music. There are some heavy parts in this, it really makes you look at yourself and your life. Enjoy the moment that you are as the past is the past and the future isn't here yet, you only have now.”

We truly only have now, but the Tuck family has forever. And they have had to keep their everlasting life a secret which is why they beg Winnie not to tell anyone. Meanwhile, they are pursued by The Man in the Yellow Suit, who wants to bottle and sell the spring water to make a fortune and live forever. The idea of immortality is a concept everyone probably has pondered. If you could live forever, would you want it?

“Honestly I wouldn’t drink it because I wouldn’t want to stay alive forever,” Kenely stated. “I feel like it would get tiring.”

“I would definitely not,” said Thornton. “Because the idea of living forever is very painful, which the show has helped me see that.”

“Definitely no,” firmly stated Cantu. “A line from a song that sticks out to me the most is, you can't have living without dying, so you can’t call this living what we got. That line just really resonated with me.”

“I would not drink the water,” Skaggs said simply. “They all explained it perfectly and I agree.”

Cooper agreed that he wouldn’t drink the water either, but his explanation was that audiences will have to come and see the show to find out why.

Tuck Everlasting has already sold out tonight's opening night show so Cooper and the cast stress that audiences better get tickets now.  There are lessons to be learned and many thing to contemplate and walk away with after seeing this production.

“I think the overall lesson is to enjoy every moment,” stated Cooper. “Don’t rush life and don’t make time stand still. Every moment is a new adventure, every moment is a new journey, every moment is something special.”

“Having the message resonate with the audience, specifically children, realizing that you have to live life to the fullest,” Cantu explained.

“You only get so much time,” said Kenley truthfully. “What I got from it and I hope audiences do too, is to find something you love doing and spend your time doing that.”

“ I think Lainey made a very good point about how you should spend your time doing what you love,” Skaggs related. “Because the show makes a very poignant point that life isn't meant to last longer than what it is. I would definitely want them to remember just how beautiful the music is and how visually appealing the dancing is. I really hope the audience realizes just how much work the ensemble put into this show because you can not have this show without the ensemble. They do an unbelievable job.”

“I just want them to realize how precious life is and how precious time is,” Thorton said honestly. “The truth is you’re not going to live forever and this show puts into the perspective that it’s not good to live forever. It’s so deep and very touching. I want audiences to go home with the message that you can’t have living without dying and life is meant to be lived to its fullest.”

The journey of the Tuck Family and Winnie Foster is waiting for you at the Valley Youth Theatre in Downtown Phoenix. Come back if you are a regular VYT theatregoer and come if you’ve never experienced a show at this venue. It just might surprise you how talented this young cast is.

Cooper wanted to share his beliefs on what happens when you give young adults a chance to prove what they are made of.

“For those who have been here before, I hope that they’ll see the same magical quality that VYT has possessed for 30 years and that they will see the incredible talent on that stage and be inspired by that. For those who are new, I hope they will be blown away by what they see and understand that given the right support and a comfortable safe place, young people can really rise to their highest potential beyond what you ever thought they could be.”

CLICK HERE for more information on Tuck Everlasting, which runs through April 21

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