Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Tim Federle probably won’t be spending eternity together, but the pals did pass a solid half-hour with Playbill to discuss their new Broadway show, Tuck Everlasting, at the Broadhurst Theatre. Based on Natalie Babbitt’s best-selling 1975 children’s novel, the musical fable stars Keenan-Bolger as Jesse Tuck, a teen turned immortal by drinking from a magical spring; Federle, a celebrated author and veteran performer, makes his Broadway writing debut. Expressing endless love for the project, the dynamic duo explains why their youth has been anything but wasted.
By Brandon Voss
Playbill: How did you two first meet?
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: On this show, right?
Tim Federle: Yeah, we officially met years ago when I was assisting on a Tuck Everlasting workshop. But in the way of showbiz and social media, we already knew each other by the time we met. We bonded over books.
AKB: Totally. It’s remarkable how much my life has been shaped by Tim’s existence. The whole reason my writing partner, Kate Weatherhead, and I got a book deal to write Jack & Louisa was the success of Tim’s Better Nate Than Ever book series.
But you have more in common than authoring theatre-themed novels for young readers. You can both count Tuck Everlasting as your fifth Broadway credit.
AKB: Oh, I didn’t realize that!
TF: That’s a fun friendship parallel.
Before Newsies, Andrew, you were in Mary Poppins, Seussical, and Beauty and the Beast. Tim, you coached child actors in Billy Elliot and did The Little Mermaid and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. What draws you to these family-friendly musicals?
AKB: I like doing musicals geared toward young people more than anything else. I remember being that age and seeing that production that changes your life. Now I get to help expose kids to theatre, which feels incredibly rewarding.
TF: I was born with a part in my hair, like I belong in the 1950s, so those shows were a natural fit. But it’s important to remember that middle schoolers don’t have credit cards. So when working on a show or a book for kids, the challenge for both of us is to entertain adults.
Tim, you joined Claudia Shear as co-librettist of Tuck Everlasting after last year’s world premiere at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. How did that collaboration work?
TF: I think I brought a global fresh perspective and a young person’s sensibility, because so much of my fiction is geared toward that age group where you can have sophisticated language but still maintain an innocence. I also had the advantage of Andrew’s voice in my head. It’s easier to think about how Andrew will land a laugh than it is to think about how an actor playing Jesse will land a laugh.
AKB: I was part of the show’s first readings, and it’s like I’m getting a second chance at feeling the newness of the material. I’ve said some of these lines for six years, but Tim brought things to the character I’d never even realized.
Tell me about Jesse Tuck.
TF: He’s this impish, Peter Pan-meets-Puck man-boy, which makes Andrew’s casting, like, stunningly perfect.
AKB: Jesse’s a 17-year-old who drank magical water with his family and, for the past 85 years, hasn’t aged a day. He started out as a wide-eyed kid with his whole life ahead of him, and back when I started on this show, I felt very much like the character.
TF: The show’s been in development so long, Andrew’s about to turn 102!
AKB: Tim beautifully added a level of complexity where Jesse’s the one in his family who views immortality as a blessing rather than a curse, but he’s also never been allowed to become a man. As an aging adult still playing young people, that checks a lot of boxes for me.
The show seems like the perfect fit for your youthful spirits.
AKB: Honestly, I’ll ride the youth train as long as I can. But it’s rare that there’s a character like Jesse where I’m able to access my physically but also say lines that ring true to who I am at 30.
TF: I just turned 36, but show folk never really grow up. I mean, we put on costumes and sing and dance in front of crowds.
Andrew, you’ve branched out into filmmaking and co-created the web series Submissions Only. Tim, you’ve also written cocktail recipe books. What fuels your tireless creativity?
TF: It’s dark, but for me it stems from when a girl in my high school drama club, Ellie Batz, died in a car accident. Up until that point I was a complete slacker and class clown who spent every day in the principal’s office. Something about her death snapped me out of my teenage haze and punctuated the idea that if I was going to make any kind of mark on the world, I needed to do it now. I dedicated my new YA book, The Great American Whatever, to her.
AKB: A lot of cultivating my own projects comes from insecurity, worrying that whatever I’m working on will be my last job.
TF: Well, if Andrew Keenan-Bolger is insecure, there’s no hope for any of us!
Playbill, May 2016 issue.