GROVE, Okla. — Questions of life and death will take center stage as a children’s production of “Tuck Everlasting” comes to life in an Oklahoma theater.

The drama will be performed by Off Broadway Troopers, the youth theater students of The Playmakers. It focuses on antics of Winnie Foster and the Tuck Family, as the story of love and loss comes to life from the pages of the book by the same title, written by Natalie Babbitt.

Suzanne Boles, Playmakers artistic executive and director of the show, said Babbitt wrote the book in the early 1970s after her daughter became worried about what happens when a person dies.

The show, set in the late 1800s in Treegap, New Hampshire, finds 11-year-old Winnie Foster yearning for a life of adventure. When Foster becomes entwined with the Tuck Family, she learns not only the secret of their unending youth but also must find the answers to whether it is better to live forever, or live life to the fullest.

“I’ve always loved the book,” Boles said. “When I saw they made it into a musical, I said ‘OK, this is the one’ for the summer.”

Boles said her decision was confirmed when she met Allison Case, the 10-year-old who portrays Winnie Foster, and saw her perform at the theater’s Christmas Legacy dinner. A growing number of boys interested in theater sealed the deal.

“I couldn’t have done it without the boys,” Boles said. “We had to have at least six boys playing roles from the Tuck family to the constable and Hugo, and we had to have boys who could sing.”

As part of the cast requirements, Boles asked each member to read the book, which is now considered a children’s classic.

“The story has a fantasy, magical quality, but it teaches important life lessons about living the fullest life possible,” Boles said. “Angus, the father, has the key line when he tells Winnie not to be afraid of death but rather be afraid of not being truly alive.

“He tells her ‘you don’t need to live forever, you just need to live.’”

About the show

The production, which kicks off the Playmakers’ 25th season, began rehearsals in May, shortly after school let out for the summer. Students have practiced up to four hours a day, four days a week during the summer and now two evenings a week and weekends since the start of school to prepare for the show.

“It was a big commitment to be in this,” Boles said. “It’s a big show and the music makes it bigger.”

Boles said for most of the cast, the show is their first chance to sing and dance on stage and many practices included basic dance steps, as well as vocal lessons.

Because the show was originally designed as a Broadway production, Boles has made some adjustments in order to fit the size of the cast and the size of the Playmakers theatre.

“I hope it gives the audience something to think about,” Boles said.”If it gets at them at the emotional level, then we’ve done our job. I like productions that make people think and feel their emotions.”

Becoming Winnie, Angus

Case tried out for the production at the urging of a family friend because she “wanted something for the summer so I wasn’t just sitting at home watching TV.”

“I like meeting new people and doing something,” Case said. “For me, being Winnie is really easy because at times she’s like my own personality. So if I need to do a hand motion, I know what to do.”

Case describes Winnie as a shy, good girl who wants to be daring. With an outgoing, never-quitting personality, Winnie wants to go on adventures and be in nature, Case said.

Case said landing the role has given her a new confidence. As one of the lead characters, she learned more than 20 different song and dance combinations.

“Suzanne has taught me to be more serious about this,” Case said. “It’s not all fun and games sometimes. This is a fun story with lots of characters. Every character is different, and we see all those different personalities.”

At 10, Case is the youngest, while Zach Daly, who portrays Angus Tuck, the Tuck family patriarch, is the oldest student. At 21, Daly has completed a year at Ozark Christian College in Joplin and plans to attend Oklahoma City University in Oklahoma City to complete a degree in musical theater.

Daly became involved in the production after attending Grove High School’s spring musical, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

“It made me want to (act and sing) again,” Daly said, adding rehearsals this summer have prompted him to change his major to musical theater and begin the enrollment process at OCU. “I really like singing. Dancing is something new for me, but it’s really fun challenging myself to try something new and to get better at both skills.”

As Angus, Daly not only leads the Tuck family, he also helps Winnie answer questions related to life and death.

As the oldest student, Daly said he enjoyed being around his cast-mates, although he admits their abundance of energy can be a challenge.

He said throughout the practices, Boles taught him to not only be more intentional on stage but also in his actions throughout life.

“My biggest takeaway is the importance of a life well lived,” Daly said. “A flower is beautiful because it doesn’t last forever. Life doesn’t have a meaning without an end. We need to take the life we have and use it, to make an impact on those we leave behind.”

Meet the cast, crew

Other students in the production include Richie McKinney, Chandler Reiman, Melody Porter, Josie Youngblood, Aidan Jackson, Sam Fletcher, Ketcher Kirk, Annaliese Cunningham, Victoria Cunningham, Kennedy Duffield, Olivia Hudson, Daryan Records and Silas Jackson. Ashley Davidson plays the sole adult role as Mae, the Tuck Family matriarch.

Boles, who serves as both the director and choreographer, is joined by Nancy Flowers, the musical director and accompanist and Myah Cearley, the assistant choreographer and dance rehearsal assistant.

“I hope people will come and see the enthusiasm of the kids,” Boles said. “I know once they get in front of an audience, we will really see it come together.”

Want to go?

Performances of “Tuck Everlasting” will run on various days from Friday to Sunday, Sept. 15. Tuesday, and Thursday to Saturday performances begin at 7:30 p.m., while Sunday matinees start at 2 p.m. Doors open 30 minutes prior to curtain.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for students kindergarten through college. Because of the nature of the play, children 5 and under are encouraged not to attend. Group rates are available.

The Playmakers Theatre is located at 121 West Third, Grove. Details: 918-786-8950, groveplaymakers@yahoo.com.

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