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Board 'The Polar Express' at First Presbyterian in Murrysville

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, 5:06 p.m.
Daniel Ferguson, Shea Williamson, Ryan Kozlosky and Zachary Dixon play children aboard the Polar Express to the North Pole.
Laura Ferguson photo
Daniel Ferguson, Shea Williamson, Ryan Kozlosky and Zachary Dixon play children aboard the Polar Express to the North Pole.
Perla Palkovich, Evan Ferguson, Abby Ramaley, Ally Keim, Brynn Williamson and Abby Cassidy also play the role of Santa's elves.
Laura Ferguson photo
Perla Palkovich, Evan Ferguson, Abby Ramaley, Ally Keim, Brynn Williamson and Abby Cassidy also play the role of Santa's elves.
Above, hot chocolate servers Ally Keim, Evan Ferguson, Abby Ramaley, Perla Palkovich, Abby Cassidy and Brynn Williamson.
Laura Ferguson photo
Above, hot chocolate servers Ally Keim, Evan Ferguson, Abby Ramaley, Perla Palkovich, Abby Cassidy and Brynn Williamson.
Abby Ramaley, Ryan Kozlosky, Joseph Hnath, and Ally Keim portray the Allsburg family.
Laura Ferguson photo
Abby Ramaley, Ryan Kozlosky, Joseph Hnath, and Ally Keim portray the Allsburg family.
Joseph Hnath and Ryan Kozlosky play the Conductor and Chris Allsburg.
Laura Ferguson photo
Joseph Hnath and Ryan Kozlosky play the Conductor and Chris Allsburg.

Megan Nelson knew staging a production like “The Polar Express” would be a challenge given the venue — a local church rather than a traditional theater stage.

What she didn't know was that the challenge would also include finding room for an 11-foot, fully decked-out train engine.

“One of my friend's husbands made it, and I did not know it was going to be that big,” said Nelson, a special education teacher in the New Kensington-Arnold School District and an Export resident.

“Lately that's the only thing we've been talking about — is it going to fit on the stage?” she said.

Nelson is directing an inclusive production of “The Polar Express” with a 17-member cast of all ages and abilities. The story of a young boy's adventures and mishaps on a magical train ride to the North Pole has become a mainstay among holiday films since its release in 2004.

“The kids are really into it, and it's really fun,” Nelson said. “We try to make it as special as possible, given the space we have.”

The cast began rehearsals in late September, and will stage two shows each on Dec. 9 and 16, along with a “Polar Express Extravaganza” in advance of the early show, where a $5 donation to the Mario Lemieux Foundation or a Toys for Tots donation will get playgoers a visit with Santa's elves and hot chocolate, cookies, crafts, a sing-along and story-time for children.

Nelson said she can't wait to see it all come together.

“It's weird to say that the end is my favorite, but the kids are standing there and they've done it,” she said. “The pride that I see in them when they're taking their final bows is my favorite part.

“You see the joy in their faces, you see the emotion because they've met all these challenges, they've made some new friends,” she said. “It's really what Christmas is all about.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

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