A new musical about the mid-19th and early-20th century efforts to provide orphaned New York City children with new families and better lives out west makes its New York debut next month in the exact location where much of the real-life drama first played out.
“Orphan Train: The Musical” – with book by L.E. McCollough, lyrics by Michael Barry Greer, music by Emmy Award-winning composer Doug Katsaros and direction by Emmy Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated director/choreographer Patricia Birch (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Grease”) – will be presented Oct. 11 and 12, in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall.
Performances of “Orphan Train” are free and open to the public but reservations are required due to limited seating. Show times are: Oct. 11 at 2:45 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Oct. 12 at 11:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. (with post-show discussion), and 5:30 p.m. “Orphan Train” runs 70 minutes and is recommended for children age nine and up.
“Orphan Train: The Musical” is being funded and produced by Orphan Train Musical LLC, Jonathan Cerullo/ JSCTheatricals LLC, Pages of History, Inc., The Creative Place International, and the Jerome Robbins Foundation, in celebration of Grand Central’s Centennial.
Beginning in 1853 and for more than 70 years, the Children’s Aid Society of New York, and later the New York Foundling Hospital and other charities, worked to move more than 150,000 orphaned boys and girls off the city’s streets into stable homes with adoptive families. The “surplus children,” as they were called, boarded railroad cars at Grand Central Depot (the Terminal’s predecessor) and Grand Central Terminal (when it opened in 1913) to points across the country, joining families in nearly every state in the union. The majority went west to farm families in burgeoning communities. The initiative is credited with launching the organized foster care movement in America.
Most of the relocated children landed in stable homes but the process of getting them there was controversial. Some saw the initiative as merely rounding up problem children and sending them away. Others felt the movement lifted boys and girls out of a cycle of poverty, abuse and crime. “Orphan Train” depicts all sides of the issue, focusing on six Iowa-bound orphans who embark on the greatest adventure of their young lives. It includes a variety of period voices from Bowery street slang to blunt Western wit and its score evokes a uniquely American soundscape: Tin Pan Alley brashness, Celtic folk, labor songs, gospel and much more.
“This extraordinary performance is a wonderful complement to Grand Central Terminal’s Centennial year,” says Howard Permut, president of MTA Metro-North Railroad, the MTA agency that oversees the Terminal. “So much of our celebration this year accentuated the history of this location and its impact on the city.”
“With ‘Orphan Train,’ we can explore the personal impact Grand Central had on so many young lives in its earliest days. The Terminal is an endlessly vibrant part of New York City life, and this performance is yet another way Metro-North enhances the experience for customers and visitors alike,” says Randall Fleischer, vice president, Grand Central Terminal and Corporate Development, and co-director of the Grand Central Centennial.