Tuck Everlasting star Robert Lenzi discusses the reality within the fairytale

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Life isn’t eternal for Tuck Everlasting. The new musical, which began previews on March 31 and officially opened on April 26, is set to close on Sunday. At the time of closing, the production will have played 28 previews and 39 regular performances. But even as the show exits from Broadway, the impact the production had on audiences is everlasting.

The musical, directed by Casey Nicholaw, is adapted from the beloved 1975 children’s novel by Natalie Babbitt about a young girl who meets an immortal family while walking through the woods. Tuck Everlasting marked the Broadway debut for book writers Tim Federle and Claudia Shear and composing team Nathan Tysen and Chris Miller.

Robert Lenzi stars as Miles Tuck, the eldest Tuck brother, and has been with the production for over three years. Lenzi plays opposite Carolee Carmello and Michael Park as his respective stage parents and Andrew Keenan-Bolger as his younger brother Jesse.

Lenzi recently chatted with Stage Door Dish about developing the role of Miles and key themes in the enchanting musical.

I’m super excited to talk to you because I saw Tuck Everlasting a few weeks ago and your performance totally blew me away. The first topic I want to talk to you about is the song ‘Time’. For people who haven’t seen the show can you talk about the song and your connection with it?

Thank you so much, that’s so nice of you to say! The song ‘Time,’ without giving too much away, comes when Miles is dealing with something that happened in the past that he hasn’t moved on from or let go and probably hasn’t talked about in 80 years. So we meet Winnie in the story and she’s a catalyst for Miles to open up a bit and I play it every night like it’s the first time he has said some of these words and it ends up being quite the emotional journey for him.

Me, personally, I’ve been singing that song for about three years now. My first audition was in January 2013 and I sang an iteration of this tune. It’s been fun to see the journey of the song over the years. It’s essentially always been the same song but we’ve played with different songs. For example there was a version where in the beginning of the song Rose, Miles’ wife, and Thomas, my son, would sing a little lullaby that I sang over. There was a version in the bridge where Rose would sing a counter-melody. So throughout the different iterations we settled on a simpler version of it which I really love. I’m so lucky because Chris and Nathan have always been about what fits best on me and it’s so nice when that happens.

I love this cast because you all have what I call ‘the Tuck story’ — this history with the show before its Broadway run. Can you tell me about when and how you got involved and why you continued to stay with the show?

I think of the Tuck family I’m sort of the newbie. Like any other gig I got an appointment for it and I read it and I felt immediately like I had something I could bring to the table with this character. The second time I went in, Casey gave me one minor adjustment and I got a phone call like an hour later that I got it. Every time you go in and do your best and sometimes there’s magic. Regarding the family, somebody in the ensemble who was new to the company came up to me after the first Broadway read through and said ‘wow, I really can tell you guys are a family.’ We get a sense of each other’s rhythms and know how to play together and I think that can only be developed if everyone is on board and has great chemistry. It’s just building friendships, trusting each other and being comfortable with each other.

Through the subtleties you can see the history that you guys have.

That’s family. It’s just something that happens over time. Things that go completely unsaid like when Pa makes a bad joke, Carolee and I always give each other a little side eye. It’s like the things that happen in real life like ‘here’s Pa with his joke.’ It’s not really in the text and it might not even read every night, but it’s that foundation and the relationships the characters have with each other. Those details bring it to life for me.

With the cast you get to say that Carolee Carmello is your mom, Michael Park is your dad and Andrew Keenan-Bolger is your brother. As an actor what’s it like to work with these people and lean on and share with them?

It’s weird, it’s still sort of a surreal experience for me. I’m just a theatre nerd fan. I grew up in Bucks County, PA, which is like 90 miles from New York. By the time I was 14 or 15 I was taking the train every Saturday morning by myself, waiting in the TKTS line for a single ticket to see pretty much everything. In some ways I’m just a fan. I think of the countless times that I’ve sung Terry Mann’s voice in my car in high school or studying Carolee on the Parade cast recording obsessively. So when you’re in a room with these people you kind of want to share your fandom, but they’re also my colleagues. Though they quickly become your friends and you’re just working together. Having that talent level in the room makes me want to be better. It’s so easy to get inspired which is a really nice thing.

It’s also interesting that there are these big Broadway names within the show but behind the scenes, for most of the creatives – obviously not Casey Nicholaw – this is their first Broadway musical. What’s it like to have them behind you?

I think maybe because they’re all so new to this, they are willing to collaborate. The doors are always open it’s not like ‘I’m so and so and this is what I think and this is what it’s going to be.’ Whether it’s Chris asking me what key I like or Nathan asking if a lyric makes sense or Tim and Claudia asking ‘would Miles say that?’ They’re really trusting all of us who have lived with these characters to collaborate. They’re all so skilled at what they do so it’s easy to put your trust in them even if they haven’t done a lot of Broadway musicals.

What’s been your favorite part of the journey Miles has taken during this process? How do you view his character? I identified him as the realist in the family.

I think who you respond to says a lot about you as a person and that’s what’s kind of fun about the piece. There’s so many different characters with different perspectives that one of them quickly resonates with you as you experience the play. With Miles it all starts with Natalie Babbitt’s book, which I read two or three times a year in the last three years. I just take a copy and underline everything that she says about Miles and use that as my launching pad. What Claudia and Tim have done for me is just give me a sharper perspective on his life. As the different iterations of the play have come about I’ve really found the biggest journey for Miles has been how we spaced it out in the course of the evening. When we were out of town in Atlanta, ‘Time’ was actually in Act 1. It was fun for me because it was jam packed and a challenge, but moving it to Act 2 delays some of the arc and Miles takes a lot of tension with the audience into the act break which is fun. Where we settled on it makes the most sense and is the most fun for me.

What can you tell me about your upcoming cast recording and the experience going into the studio with this cast?

We recorded the album the Sunday before we opened and it will be digitally released on June 10 and then the hard CD comes out July 1. I’ve done a cast album before but this was my first chance to put my own stamp on a song, which was so exciting. I know so many people share this experience but we were right in the middle of all the chaos, the storm, right before opening. You’re going through the process of previews, rehearsing during the day, trying changes, doing eight shows a week, press previews and all of this stuff. Then they carve out this day, usually on your day off, to record the album. It’s a ‘being shot out of a cannon experience’ but they scheduled it out for us to record the whole show in one day. Those people that work in those booths, I don’t know how they do it and organize everything. We had a lot of fun. We like to play Bananagrams a lot — Carolee is a very skilled Bananagrams player — so there was a lot of that, a lot of hanging out. Then you get in the booth, you sing your song three times and they say ‘I think we got it.’ I haven’t heard any of the mixes yet but I’m really excited.

Just because a show doesn’t get nominated for a Tony for Best Musical, doesn’t mean it’s not a great show. American Psycho and Tuck Everlasting didn’t get nominated but are both have something important to say. As someone in the show, what would you say about this issue?

Well, first and foremost, this season will go down as an extremely important, historical chapter in the American musical lexicon. Obviously Hamilton will be a big chapter on the legacy that is 2016 but I think the density of the season and the fact that so many shows opened within the year of the Hamilton storm is really what makes this season important. There was so much great work and shows with original scores on Broadway in 2015-16 and as a fan of the American musical and believer in the power of it, I want it to live a long and healthy life. I hope that this season will be remembered as one of those that pushed it forward for the rest of, certainly, my lifetime. It feels special and it’s really rewarding to be a part of it. I love the community so much and it’s so nice to be invited into the club.

As far as awards go … I did the Lincoln Center revival of South Pacific, which was very well received and got a lot of Tony love but at the end of the day I just go to work and tell the story. All of that stuff is really on the sidelines and there’s not too much I can say about it other than it’s out of my control. All I can do is the best job I can at telling this story and so whatever happens within the ethos of the awards is going to happen and it doesn’t change what I do in terms of my journey with the show.

But I will say that, yes, I think because this season is so dense there’s a lot out there. There have been seasons since I’ve been following theatre in the last 15-20 years when the work wasn’t that great and maybe something that won Best Musical in a certain year would not even be invited to the party this year. It’s just how things go and it’s the chance of each different year. I’m really proud of our show and I feel really blessed to play it every night. When people come to the theatre they’re finding a really full and moving experience and that’s all you can ask for.

You have the experience of working with M. Night Shyamalan so is the supernatural something you gravitated towards or is it more happenstance that your first big lead in a Broadway show is this supernatural show?

I think there’s something about the supernatural that brings a certain weight to the storytelling that I gravitate towards. Especially in a musical, it just makes sense to sing a song when you’re mourning a son you lost 80 years ago. Storytelling through song is about communicating big emotional snapshots of people’s lives and that’s something that I personally love about musicals. I think it makes sense that I would be involved with something like that. I don’t know about the movie connection … maybe it’s because I have dark hair and my eyes are deeply set and I look very mysterious or something. It’s my genetics.

I want to talk about your BFF Christy Altomare, who is now a princess [in Anastasia at Hartford Stage] and you are both having these big milestones in your career at the same time, but also you’re not in the same city for it.

All of my stage experiences were literally with Christy. We probably did like 20 shows together growing up as kids. When you find someone who is as passionate as you are about being great that young, it’s so nice to have someone push you and be there with you. We’ve sort of grown as actors and singers together at the same time. I’m insanely proud of her and I think she’s amazing and I’m so happy for her success. She came to our final dress rehearsal and every time we see each other on stage it’s sort of surreal because it wasn’t that long ago we were rushing Contact at Lincoln Center. You blink your eyes and suddenly she’s coming to my final dress rehearsal for Broadway and she’s about to go out of town in a title role. Again we’re from Bucks County and our community has really supported us. I just had some retired teachers at my Wednesday matinee. Christy’s teachers organized a bus trip to see her. There’s all these ties and connections to home and to have these reminders that people are rooting for you makes it all that more special.

And now I want to talk about the other lady in your life, your girlfriend Krystina Alabado, who is amazing in American Psycho. What was it like seeing her in this show?

I love watching Krystina perform. Probably like once a day or every other day I just ask her ‘can you just teach me how to sing?’ She’s such a talent and such a hard worker. When you see someone you know so well on stage it can be a strange experience because it’s hard to lose yourself in the story. It’s always going to be Krystina but when she opens her mouth I sort of forget where I am and I’m so enamored with her talent. I love the show too. I’ve seen it twice and it’s like the coolest and wildest ride. I really love the whole physical production, the performances and the score.

We have different days off which is the one kink in our Broadway story. They’re on this, in my opinion, awful schedule where they have Wednesdays off and perform Sunday and Monday nights. So it’s hard for us but it means I can see her show anytime I want. I think I’m seeing it this Sunday night for my third deep dive into Patrick Bateman.

I’m so proud of her. She’s the most amazing singer and actor but what I love most about her is that she’s who she is offstage because that’s who I get to experience 99.9% of my life and it just happens to be a cool bonus that every time she opens her mouth, my jaw drops.

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And you do share an alley on Broadway. Do you sneak into each other’s theatres or have that time where you can meet before or after shows?

It’s a part of our routine, getting to go to work together most days. My show is 15-20 minutes shorter so I just go to her stage door so we can go home together. We did do an amazing Saturday Intermission Pic the other day where the whole cast of Tuck, at five minutes to places, went into the American Psycho backstage and took a big photo with both companies. It’s so cool and so strange because the worlds are so different. One time, Krystina and I walked from her dressing room, through the stage into my backstage and to go from the modern, gray-scale, shiny, sexy set for them into our rustic, warm fairytale is confusing for a second. It’s so jarring, but you really open those doors and you’re in a completely different place which is wild.

I think it’s funny how people say that your shows are so different, because they both hinge on the issue of mortality. People are either living forever in one or they’re being slaughtered. How has your view of your own mortality changed?

Well it reaffirms that life is really about the journey and enjoying every moment, wherever you are in your life. This time of my life is really exciting and I’m trying to enjoy everyday. It’s one journey and one day it’s over. Even though recognizing your own mortality is a little morbid, I actually find it freeing and life-affirming. Without an end date, something isn’t as precious. The fact that one day it will pass makes it that much more valuable in that exact moment and I think it’s a healthy way to live your life. I love that we get to tell that story and sometimes it’s emotionally draining, but you’re reminded of some really good life lessons every night.

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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