‘Tuck Everlasting’ didn’t have to look far for its young star

Sarah Charles Lewis is inquisitive, eager to try new things — and extraordinarily talented.

All of these qualities were on display almost two years ago during a trip to New York City when Sarah was a finalist for the role of Annie on Broadway.

In between auditions and callbacks, Sarah, who lives in Milton, hatched an idea. Curious to know what it felt like to sing for tips, Sarah borrowed her mother’s pinstriped flat cap, selected a spot outside Central Park — and belted out songs from “Annie.”

People applauded, and they dropped change and dollar bills into the cap. Within around five minutes, Sarah, who was 8 years old at the time, collected $15. (During that trip to New York in the summer of 2013, Sarah made it to the top eight for the Annie role on Broadway.)

Now 10, the young local actress recently rose to the top in a national search to assume the role of Winnie Foster, the young girl who’s the lead role in the world premiere of “Tuck Everlasting” at the Alliance Theatre. The fantasy novel for children by Natalie Babbitt has been shaped into a major new musical.

Sarah is only one of a few Atlanta-based actors in the production. Most hail from New York City, including the ensemble roles. The show, opening Jan. 21 and running through Feb. 22, is full of talent and promise and faces huge expectations. With hopes of catapulting this show to Broadway, this role provides an enormous opportunity for Sarah’s theatrical career.

It’s directed by the prolific Casey Nicholaw, who has been attached to some of the most popular shows in recent Broadway history: He choreographed “Spamalot,” directed and choreographed “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and choreographed and co-directed “The Book of Mormon,” sharing a directing Tony with “Mormon” co-creator Trey Parker.

Nicholaw now takes a departure from his broad comedies.

In “Tuck Everlasting,” Winnie is offered a sip of water that could give her everlasting life. Whether to drink is the question that haunts the novel.

The story is woven with themes about mortality, exploring the concept of what it would mean if we never died. It’s a show about making your life count and savoring every moment.

In a recent interview during a rehearsal break, both Sarah and her mom agree Sarah is a lot like Winnie.

“She has this curiosity and love for life and exploration. She is not fearful and likes to try new things,” said her mother, Jennifer Lewis, a real estate agent and musician. “If I tell her to stay inside the gate, she would do it, but she would forever beg me to get out the gate.”

During rehearsal, Sarah, who is being home-schooled while being part of this production, seems to almost float on stage, clad in a drab, long-sleeved red dress and black Nike sneakers. She hangs on every word of Nicholaw, who delivers nonstop feedback — on the tone, the position, the pacing of the words.

Sarah’s affinity for music goes back to infancy. She went from babbling to humming. And as her mom points out, she hummed in tune. As a toddler, Sarah would listen to Mozart and Beethoven and be moved to tears.

By age 4, she was taking dance lessons. And over the years, she has enrolled in vocal lessons and theater workshops, and she’s been heavily involved in musical theater at local theaters, as well as her church.

She first auditioned for a show, “Once on This Island,” when she was 6. She landed an ensemble role, and was hooked. She’s gone on to play the role of young Fiona in “Shrek the Musical” at Louchiey Theater in Alpharetta and the role of Annie at the Atlanta Lyric Theatre.

Working with Nicholaw, Sarah said, is “overwhelmingly incredible.”

“It is such an honor to work with Casey,” Sarah beamed.

She slapped her cheeks and shook her head in disbelief.

“He’s the director of ‘Aladdin.’ It almost feels like a dream,” she said.

Sarah, a fourth-grader, enjoys the process of learning a new script and rehearsing it.

“It’s an adventure,” she said.

She also loves the feeling of being on stage — the lights, the stage, the spotlight.

“I love belting out a song with all your heart,” she said. “It’s the best feeling ever.”

Jody Feldman, casting director for the Alliance, said she was prepared to hold auditions across the country, but was blown away early in the process by Sarah’s audition here in Atlanta.

“From the moment she opened her mouth, you could feel the energy and you could see the excitement in Casey’s mind bubbling up,” Feldman said. “He lit up, and he couldn’t wait for her to finish singing ‘Good Girl Winnie Foster’ so he could start working with her and challenging her and seeing how she could take direction. And she’s never disappointed.”

After the first audition with Nicholaw, Sarah was called back, and performed more, newly mastered songs from the show.

Nicholaw said Sarah is wise and a quick learner.

“She soaks it up like a sponge,” he said. “A lot of times with kids, they will nod and say yes but don’t do anything differently. She always makes the adjustments, which is amazing for someone her age.”

Sweet and effusive, the girl with bright blue eyes is also mature for her age.

When she first read the book “Tuck Everlasting” and then saw the movie, she decided that yes, she would drink the water.

But as she spends her days as Winnie, she has given the concept of realizing immortality (while others do not) a lot of thought.

“I am not so sure anymore,” she said. “I want to live a normal life and have kids and grandkids.

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