TRAVERSE CITY — Tara Hochstetler moved her family to Traverse City partly because of the area’s robust arts scene.
But she never imagined her grade-schooler would rehearse with one of the country’s leading arts education institutions under the watchful eye of a Broadway composer.
Jackson Hochstetler, 11, is one of two area children recruited to play roles in the Interlochen Arts Academy production of “Tuck Everlasting.” The musical based on the popular children’s novel opened Thursday at Interlochen Center for the Arts' Harvey Theatre. All shows are sold out for Nov. 17, Dec. 1 and 2 with a waiting line for tickets available one hour before the performance.
The family-friendly musical played on Broadway in 2016 and gathered multiple honors, including a Tony Award nomination for best costume design and an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for best new musical. It's folksy score — called "rapturous" by The New York Times — was composed by Chris Miller, who flew in from New York this week to work with the Interlochen cast.
“This was the first time I had seen it since it closed on Broadway,” said Miller, who once dreamt of attending Interlochen. “It was emotional for me to see these students commit to it and do it in a way that was different than the way I had experienced it. It was so moving and wonderful.”
The Academy cast features 25 performance majors accompanied by a pit orchestra of eight musicians. Hochstetler and fellow Traverse Citian Valerie Peck play youth roles.
“Jackson is very introverted so it’s fun to see him in an acting role,” sad Tara Hochstetler, mother of The Children’s House Montessori School fifth-grader. “He’s a ‘middle’ so it’s wonderful to see him do his own thing, to have his own special moment to shine.”
The show tells the story of teenage Winnie Foster, who longs for a life outside the control of her domineering mother. While lost in the woods near her home, she happens upon Jesse Tuck, whose family takes her in. But the family has a powerful secret — spoiler: eternal life — and Winnie must decide whether to return to her life or stay with the Tucks.
The Academy is one of the first three schools in the country to produce the musical, said Director Bill Church, director of theater at Interlochen Center for the Arts.
Church began seeking rights to perform an earlier, regional version of the title about 10 years ago but was told it was off-limits because a new musical adaptation was in development. He tried again in spring, shortly after rights to the new show became available.
“I love the story, I love the music,” said Church, adding that it’s not often that Interlochen theater students get to do young adult theater. “What’s great about ‘Tuck Everlasting' is that it runs the whole gamut of ages. Some students play adult roles … but a fair amount just get to be teenagers. It is liberating because they’re able to connect with the characters on a personal level.”
The Academy production features 1800s period costumes and a set whose focal point is a majestic ash tree, in keeping with Natalie Babbitt's classic story.
“If we go to the book, her images are very much about the natural world. It’s a way for young adults to process what it is to live and what it is to die and that there are natural cycles to things,” Church said. “I love the idea and that it’s uplifting and inspiring and very positive, and that it has a sense of humor.
“It also speaks to our students in that it’s a book they grew up reading and now they get to explore in a different way.”
The Academy show run includes two mini-tour performances at the Cowell Family Cancer Center and The Children’s House.