Culture

A Beloved Book Coming to Broadway: Tuck Everlasting

Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen/Photo via MillerAndTysen.com

Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt's beloved 1975 novel, is a staple on the bookshelves of children and adults -- and not only because it is often required reading in schools. Tuck Everlasting tells the story of a young girl who befriends the mysterious Tuck family and learns their secret: The Tucks drank from an enchanted woodland spring that grants immortality to anyone who drinks from it.

The story is both enchanting and accessible to people of all ages, and is now being adapted to musical theater by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen (The Burnt Part Boys), with a book by Claudia Shear (Tony nominee for Dirty Blonde).

A Beloved Story

The songwriting team of Miller and Tysen has loved the material since childhood. Tuck Everlasting is an adored book; it can be counted among the children's classics that turn them toward reading. Indeed, for Nathan Tysen, it was the first "big book" he finished as a young reader.

"I think kids around ten, eleven, twelve start to comprehend their own mortality," said Tysen. "For me, I was terrified of death. And Tuck Everlasting put the circle of life into perspective."

A famous line from the book, and one that made its way into the musical, sums up this perspective perfectly: "Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don't have to live forever, you just have to live."

Years of Work

Since the material followed them from childhood, the project has been brewing for a long time, whether in their minds, on paper, or in the rehearsal room. The two childhood fans of the book reopened it in graduate school and found it lent itself perfectly to musical theater adaptation.

"It's magical," Miller said, "but not unrealistic. It's our world, with some magic in it. No one's, you know, gonna get up and fly away."

In 2009, they pitched their idea to Broadway producer Beth Williams. That night Williams had dinner with another producer, who had a copy of Tuck Everlasting in his pocket. "I just acquired the theatrical rights to this book, and I want to produce it," he said. Williams couldn't believe the serendipity.

With no Broadway credits, Miller and Tysen had to convince the producers they were the right team to write the score. They wrote songs on spec to prove they knew the material inside out, and it paid off: Come April 2016, Tuck Everlasting will open on Broadway with music and lyrics by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen.

Fans of the book need not be concerned: The story is in good hands. The material has never been adapted for musical theater before, which may surprise some. "Well, in 2002 Disney released the movie," Miller said. In the film, Winnie is fifteen and on the brink of romance. In both the book and the musical, Winnie is eleven -- a child just coming to terms with death and the world. "I think Natalie [Babbitt] ... was waiting for the right time for a musical. When she saw our adaptation would be very faithful to her book, she was very happy."

Creating a Musical

But adapting a book into a musical is a huge endeavor; how do you take words and make them spoken dialogue, lyrics, and melodies?

"We wanted to know -- what happened in the 100 years since the Tucks received immortality? So we wrote a lot of backstory," said Tysen. "Not all of it ended up in the musical. But it really helped us make the characters three-dimensional."

Another chunk left out of the book is Winnie's adult life. What happens to a girl who grows up knowing she has the chance for immortality? Harkening back to the golden age of musical theater, Tuck Everlasting's climax is done through dance, a specialty of director Casey Nicholaw ("Aladdin," "The Book of Mormon," "Something Rotten"). Together they created a ballet that The New York Times called "gorgeous, sweeping."

What's it like to make your Broadway debut?

"It's the best feeling in the world, and also absolutely terrifying," says Tysen. "But I'm so grateful it happened with a project that means so much to us." Some writers could sell out, or work for years without having a piece go this far, but their opening is set for April 2016. Tuck Everlasting is a poignant piece firmly rooted in many adults' hearts, and has moved children for decades, and it's finally coming to Broadway. The writers couldn't be more thrilled. "We've been working on the material for seven years, and loved it for thirty."

Check out a song from the piece, "Everlasting":

Listen here: Everlasting

For more information on the musical, visit TuckEverlastingMusical.com.