Magical show raises life and death, time and mortality issues


Yellow suit man, Seung Won Isaac in Tuck Everlasting theatre performance at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi on April 21, 2023. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Tuck Everlasting is a charming musical fantasy, staged last weekend by Rosslyn Academy. It’s about a family that drinks from a magical spring that gives them immortality or life everlasting.

Now, one might think the Tuck family is delighted to discover they can never die. But think again. Only the 17-year-old Jesse (David Kabutha) takes full advantage of the deathless lifetime he has ahead of him.

And in the last 100-odd years since his family accidentally drank this inexplicably transformative water, he has travelled the world and seen myriad wonders in the process.

But the rest of Jesse’s family are not as enthusiastic about the longevity they face. Whether it’s due to a lack of imagination or conviction that they have nothing more to strive for as Jesse’s dad seems to believe, it is not clear.

But that all changes once Winnie (Dexia Ontiria), a rebellious runaway who is only 11 years old arrives. She meets Jesse and nearly discovers the spring when she is thirsty and needs a drink.

Rather than allow her to find out and potentially disclose the Tuck family's ‘secret’ to the wider world, she is ‘kidnapped’ by the family.

But before that happens, the two youngsters sing one of the best songs in the show. It’s Partners in Crime, and it is also just one of many memorable songs sung by these remarkable voices.

But the singing and acting are not the only exceptional features of Tuck Everlasting. The costume and set design are also outstanding.

All the dancers, ensemble singers, and leads are impeccably dressed to fit their parts. And the set designs are most effective.


Winnie with Jesse's dad, fishing in Tuck Everlasting theatre performance at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi on April 21, 2023. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

They were designed by the show’s director Alison Harrar, with massive support from Kirsten Krymusa as well as many others that she names in the beautifully produced Programme.

All the sets were constructed atop wheels so they can be moved efficiently, thus enabling the show’s action to proceed without long blackouts or stalls.

They also feel magical, even when in act two, the show addresses more serious issues related to life and death, time and eternity.

A big portion of what enhances that magical feeling are the technical bits, the lighting and sound, as well as the live music.

In the Director’s Note, Alison refers to the music as one of the main reasons she wanted to stage this musical. She is fortunate to have a strong school orchestra that carries all the show’s ‘folk and Broadway musical styles flawlessly.

Why this is important is because the whole narrative of the story comes mainly through the songs.

One important one is ‘The Story of the Man in the Yellow Suit’, referring to the so-called Carnival Man (Seung Won ‘Isaac’ Jeon) who brings his carnival to the Tuck’s town in act two.

It seems he has traced the magical water (which he somehow heard about as rumour or legend) and is now in search of it with the intent of monetising it for personal gain.

Seung Won is a brilliant villain who belts out his song, backed up by the ensemble and the whole dance team. His presence scares the family. But then something strange takes place.

Jesse, 17, and Winnie, 11, agree that she waits before drinking the magic water because he wants her to be his age (which never changes).

Then they split and the family departs so as not to be nabbed by the Yellow Suit.

What follows that is strange is first, how easily Winnie forgets her promise to Jesse. She’s just 11, but apparently, she grows up fast enough for Hugo (Peter Maliak), the bumbling Investigator, to fall for her and she for him.


Hugo dancing with his Inspector in Tuck Everlasting theatre performance at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi on April 21, 2023. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

After that, what’s surreal is her kaleidoscopic growth from Bride to Mother with a newborn to her being a Mom with a teenager who also falls in love and gives her grandchildren.

This is time travel, surely. It points to one other theme of the show which is time and mortality, and the value of living well and advancing in years, not simply aspiring to live forever.

It’s one of the reasons young Millie Tuck (Lee Onyango) isn’t happy with her immortality. And one of the takeaways of this show is the notion of not fearing death.

So, apart from Tuck Everlasting having a beautiful set, fabulous music (including solo voices that could go professional if they so wished), and an interesting narrative, the musical raises deep philosophical questions that are left for you to contemplate.

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