NEW YORK (AP) — Andrew Keenan-Bolger isn't tapping into his vulnerable side for his next Broadway role. He's trying to be utterly fearless.
In the new musical "Tuck Everlasting," the actor plays a character who simply doesn't fear death. So Keenan-Bolger is honing his recklessness and rashness.
"I think there is a level of danger that I want to present to the audience and push them slightly past the comfort level," he said. "My goal is to make all the moms in the audience almost have a heart attack. We'll see how that goes."
"Tuck Everlasting" is based on the popular 1975 children's book by Natalie Babbitt about a young girl in the 1880s who befriends a unique family that has gained eternal life. It starts previews on March 31.
"While the story is really small — it's one girl's adventure — I think it's natural for a Broadway audience because of the scale of the questions that it raises," said Keenan-Bolger. "Essentially, if you boil down the musical to one question it's If you could live forever, would you?"
Keenan-Bolger, last on Broadway in "Newsies," plays a 104 year-old man who is stuck at 17, an unjaded teen described in the book as "like water: thin, and quick." He leaps into streams and scampers up trees without a second thought.
Casey Nicholaw, who directs and choreographs the new musical, has known Keenan-Bolger since they were both in "Seussical" in 2000, and thinks the casting this time is spot-on.
"He's got such a mischievous look to him and energy to him. You know, he is kind of ageless in life. So it's a perfect match," said Nicholaw, who directed "The Book of Mormon" and "Aladdin."
The two men recently left New York City to see how a key part of the show is shaping up — the enormous abstract tree designed by Walt Spangler that will take up most of the 25-foot tall proscenium at the Broadhurst Theatre and be a jungle gym for Keenan-Bolger's character.
At a scene shop in New Windsor, New York, Keenan-Bolger leapt up into the branches and rode one of the massive mechanical limbs. He will have no wires to protect him, just well-placed grips. "It reminds me of a climbing wall but with no rope," he said.
The musical, which made its debut last year at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre, has gone through phases of being too morose or too sweet. Nicholaw said it needed to twinkle.
At one reading, he heard a lot of sniffles in the audience. "I turned around. It was all men in suits. I was like, 'Wow, that was not what I was expecting,'" he said. "It's taken us a while to find the right tone for it and I think we've finally found it."
The show has music by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen, who collaborated on "The Burnt Part Boys." The cast will also include Carolee Carmello, Fred Applegate and Terrence Mann. It will star newcomer Sarah Charles Lewis, 12.
Keenan-Bolger, who is a co-author of the new children's series "Jack & Louisa" and is the brother of actress Celia Keenan-Bolger, remembers his mother reading "Tuck Everlasting" to him as a kid and being embarrassed that it made her so emotional. He completely understood when he returned to it as an adult.
"I think especially kids connect to it because it's one of the first books that we read that deals with mortality. People have not given children enough credit to understand the idea of death. But I really think they do," he said.
"They lose a grandparent or a pet and it's scary and confusing. I think Natalie Babbitt was one of the first geniuses who recognize that and helped everyone make sense of it. You can't have living without dying."