If you could stay 17 years old forever, would you?

That’s the question the Summer Performing Arts company explores in “Tuck Everlasting,” a musical which opens Saturday, July 20, for a four-day run at Red River High School.

The notion of immortality, woven through the dialogue and the music, ponders whether a life locked in time -- without change or growth -- is really worth living.

Based on the best-selling, classic American children’s novel by Natalie Babbitt, “Tuck Everlasting” tells the story of Winnie Foster, 11, who yearns for a life of adventure beyond her stifling, formal life behind a white picket fence in Treegap, N.H., in 1893. But not until she becomes unexpectedly entwined with the Tuck family does she get more than she could have imagined.

When Winnie learns of the magic behind the Tucks’ unending youth, she must fight to protect their secret from those who would do anything for a chance at eternal life.

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As her adventure unfolds, Winnie faces an extraordinary choice: return to her life or continue with the Tucks on their infinite journey.

Angus Tuck, the father in the family, who’s lived well past 100, longs to die and go to heaven.

He shares his wisdom with Winner.

“You can’t have living without dying,” Angus Tuck tells her, as she contemplates drinking the water that gave the Tucks infinite life, so she might have it, too.

“Don’t be afraid of dying, Winnie,” he says. “Be afraid of not being truly alive.”

Award-winner literature

Connie Sherwood, who’s directing the SPA production, said: “I absolutely love doing plays that are based off literature.”

The children’s book is often among fifth- and sixth-grade classroom reading options, she said, and its quality has been recognized with numerous awards, including being selected by the National Education Association as one of the “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.”

“It’s a wonderfully beautiful novel, and it’s got just a timeless message for kids about immortality and how life has a beginning and an end, and why that is important,” she said.

The novel, which has sold more than 5 million copies, has been called a classic of modern children’s literature and has been adapted into two feature films.

The stage musical, adapted from the book, “is tender and sweet,” Sherwood said. “Because the music is fabulous -- it’s just gorgeous -- we wanted to do it.”

The play has only recently been released for amateur productions.

“We’re thrilled to get to do it,” she said.

Musically challenging

While the production is musically challenging, SPA students are tackling it, according to Sherwood.

The four members of the Tuck family sing “quite a bit of four-part harmony,” she said. “It’s challenging, but then, we have good musicians. The choral stuff is beautiful. ”

Though the show has humorous moments, it isn’t a comedy, she said.

“It’s got such a tender poignancy to it, it’s not all funny," she said.

Theater-goers are invited to take a journey that shifts their perceptions on aging.

“You’re going to come away feeling like you’ve been given a present, that ‘Oh, OK, I do look forward to my next stage of life,’ ” Sherwood said.

With Jesse Tuck, the boy who remains 17 forever, as an example, the SPA leaders ask students: What would happen if you were stuck right where you are forever, and you weren’t going to get married, and you weren’t going to have children, and you weren’t going to even go to college or have a career? You were going to be that age endlessly, and never mature at all?

“Oh, dear, so very few people would say, ‘Yes, I would love that,’ because we’re always looking forward to the next phase of life," Sherwood said.

The four members of the Tuck family “are all stuck in different stages of life and they don’t get beyond it,” she said. “So the message is, you take the good with the bad and the dying with the being born. And that’s what life is all about, because if you don’t die, you can’t really live -- which is really pretty profound.”

Ten cast members have named characters who are joined by another 48 students, who are on stage a lot, “but they’re not always the same,” she said. They play various roles as townspeople and figures representing “magic and memory.”

Mike Weber is the show’s music director; Angie Black Erickson and Maren Dewar are the choreographers.

The audience will enjoy many aspects of the production, Sherwood said.

“They’ll love the ballet at the end. It makes you laugh and cry. It’s so touching. And they’ll enjoy the music because the music is gorgeous, and you can’t help but love the music.”

Cast members are: Grant Anderson (as Jesse Tuck), Brooklyn Evans (Mae Tuck), Noah Severud (Miles Tuck), Isaac Barta (Angus Tuck), Avery Eagleton (Winnie Foster), Alex Berglund (Man in the Yellow Suit), Kirsten Warcup (Mother), Chloe Heydt (Nana), Lucas Tande (Hugo), Ethan Suriano (Constable Joe), and Owen Berglund (Young Thomas).

Ensemble members are: Blake Anderson, Kylie Baier, Lauren Betz, Katie Brindamour, Grace Carl, Kaili Courtney, Jonathan Dawes, Emma Dodds, Alyssa Donacki, Gavin Dorsey, Roselyn Erickson, Rudy Erickson, Reagan Fontaine, Joe Germandson, Taylor Hartze, Ella Henry, Makayla Holte,

Kyle Holter-Vogel, Ruby Huebner, Malia Jackson-Boles, Zoe Jiran, Katelyn Johnson, Jayden Jonasson, Taylor Kiley, Sydney Kouba, Claire Lapp, Gracia Larsen-Schmidt, Riley Lauzon, Lola Lucke, Trevor Masa, Lyric McGillicuddy, Morgan McIntosh, Hannah McSparron, Miles Miller, Dylan Narum, Haleigh Peters,

Collin Polasky, Courtney Rhondeau, Sadie Rygh, Georgia Sayles, Kylie Severson, Christie Stayman, Abbie Sundine, Riley Thorseon, Lydia Weippert, Olivia Weisgram, Kaitlyn Werner, Haley Wood and Jack Zavoral.

Crew members are: Sydney Boucher, Kaid Brewster, Alexis Clausen, Kieran Dale, Kaylee Duchaine, Haley Jorgenson, Arilyn Olson, Jack Parrish, Tyler Peasland, Josh Pieper, Nicholas Schlief, Eliot Schumacher, Alexzander Toupin, Erik Walker, Chloe Whaley and Emily Whaley.

A program of Grand Forks Public Schools, SPA is celebrating its 32nd season.

More than 24,000 students have participated in SPA since 1987, according to Dean Opp, the program’s administrative director.

IF YOU GO

What: “Tuck Everlasting: The Musical”

When: Saturday, Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m.; and Sunday at 4 p.m.

Where: Red River High School Performance Hall, 2211 17th Ave. S. (enter door 22 on the school’s southwest side)

Admission: Adults, $12; seniors, $10; children and adults, $6

For more information or to make reservations: Call (701) 746-2411 or go to www.spacompany.org.