Virginia Rep’s “Little Engine” is the Big Summer Hit for Little Ones!

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    See “The Little Engine That Could” at Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre of Virginia at Willow Lawn through July 30. (Photos by Aaron Sutten)

    From Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theater at Willow Lawn comes The Little Engine That Could, a lively musical based on the classic tale of a little train that learns to try and succeed by believing in itself.

    Jim Bynum stars in “The Little Engine That Could.”

    This time-honored story began as a sermon given by Reverend Charles Wing of the Norstrand Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church in Brooklyn over a hundred years ago, and grew into a children’s book with multiple versions published over the last century. This new iteration is a fun and modern musical by local Richmond-area artists, Scott Wichmann (book and lyrics) and Jason Marks (music and lyrics).

    The contemporary story of a grandparent, played by Jim Bynum, who must move into his son’s home, played by Anthony Cosby, ties seamlessly with the classic story we’ve grown up hearing. In particular, the lead of Ginny/Little Blue, played by Bridget Sindelar, is a delight as an adolescent in a wheelchair, surrounded by people with no doubts about what she can (and does!) accomplish, and as the little cheerful engine wanting to help her inspiration, Engine 2317. Played by Rachel Marrs, Engine 2317 breaks down with a train car full of toys and food – and no way to get her delivery over the mountain to the orphans of Richmond, Virginia.

    The director, Chase Kniffen, does an excellent job of surprising the audience by introducing oversized puppets (expertly provided by Heidi Rugg and Barefoot Puppets) into a lovely and simple family musical. At this cozy venue, Kniffen also uses giant moving trains and toe-tapping musical numbers to bring the pages of the classic book to life. While everyone in the cast and about the production is superb, an audience favorite is the jazzy musical number, “The Scoop,” performed by Elmira, the very important news train, played by Jessi Johnson. Elmira sees the new story of orphans not getting their toys as more interesting than helping Engine 2317 deliver them over the mountain.

    Preschoolers to young elementary-aged children will love this 50-minute musical, which ends right when the youngest members of the audience begin to get the wiggles – and not just from the music. These children will come away from The Little Engine That Could knowing that accomplishment starts with believing in oneself, and continues when we are surrounded by family and friends who believe in us. Or at least they will mention it as they chatter on in the car-ride home about blue trains and giraffe puppets.

    The Little Engine That Could runs through July 30 at Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn, where parking is convenient and the choices for an after- or pre-show meal or snack with the kids are plentiful.

    For showtimes and tickets, visit Virginia Rep.