The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 17, 2010

Tender story of optimism | 'Little Engine That Could' rolls into arts center


BY RUTH RICE

RRICE@TRIBDEM.COM

A well-loved story of optimism is making tracks to Johnstown.

The children’s classic “The Little Engine That Could” will be brought to life by Omaha Theater Company at 10 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. March 8 at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Richland Township.

Colorful trains and life-sized toys will come alive to teach children about the power of optimism in an interactive and inspirational production.

The book “The Little Engine That Could,” written by Watty Piper and illustrated by George and Doris Hauman, has been adapted for the stage for the first time by the theater company’s director, James Larson.

Larson stayed true to the well-known story while giving the toys imaginative, detailed personalities and histories.

The toys include a doll, a clown, a monkey and a teddy bear.

The little blue engine struggles to overcome seemingly impossible odds as he carries a heavy load of toys over an imposing mountain.

Jeff Haffner, who portrays all the trains in the production, said there are five set pieces, including the large wooden trains.

“I wear an engineer’s outfit and metallic makeup,” Haffner said in a telephone interview from the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.

“I wear a different hat that’s like a smokestack for each train. They’re color coordinated with the train.”

Because there’s not a lot of time to change backstage, Haffner creates the different characters vocally and physically.

“Each one has a song to sing to establish their character,” he said.

“When the morning train breaks down, the other trains reject the toys. Some are too proud or too powerful, considering themselves above the toys, and another train is too old.”

All the trains refuse to carry the toys except the Little Engine That Could.

The audience will be invited to join in as the little engine chants, “I think I can, I think I can.”

Other audience interaction will include talking with the toys and new activities as each train is introduced.

“They help with the songs, and when the old train falls asleep and we have to tickle him, the kids will tickle each other,” Haffner said.

The children will portray the good little boys and girls who live on the other side of the mountain, the destination for the toys.

The 60-minute show is recommended for children ages 4 to 9.



Training

What: “The Little Engine That Could.”

Where: Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Richland Township.

When: 10 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. March 8.

Tickets: $5.

Information: 269-7200 or (800) 846-2787.