Since 1924, young readers have been following the exploits of "The Boxcar Children," four orphaned siblings who "stick together like glue," as older brother Henry likes to say.
Barbara Field's stage adaptation of the classic book, onstage at Orlando Repertory Theatre, takes a vignette-style approach to the tale but the Rep's production ably finds the heart of the story in the loving connection among the young Alden orphans.
Director Jani Walsh-Weber handles the deaths of the Alden parents with a light touch: "Pity about their parents," an adult says as the four children shiver nearby.
The kids — Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny — have been rescued from a boating accident that claimed the lives of their parents. Overhearing that they could be separated, they decide to run away instead and eventually set up housekeeping in an abandoned railroad boxcar.
The original book spawned more than 100 sequels, with the latest series set in the present day. The play, however, sticks to the original 1920s era — it's a time of depression and harmonica-playing hobos. This may prompt questions from children — who also might wonder what exactly a boxcar is.
Scenic artist Tom Mangieri's depiction of the boxcar is functionally rustic, but doesn't necessarily bring a train to mind. A clever touch is found in the debris spilling out around the stage, which effectively evokes the poverty of the time and provides the material for young Benny to create a nifty wagon.
Because the play moves so quickly from the parents' deaths to the pluckiness of the kids on their own, the young actors don't get much of a chance to grieve. But pluck they demonstrate in spades.
Alex Dyon, as Henry, radiates determination, while Chloe Robin lets vulnerability peek through her practical-minded Jessie. In the younger roles, Kristen E. Brock and Lee Karlinsky admirably avoid false sentimentality, playing their moments with simplicity.
Only a few times do their voices get swallowed up in the Rep's large Universal Orlando Theatre.
In the adult ensemble, Jose Miguel Vasquez stands out as a kindly doctor who takes an interest in the youngsters.
Fans of the book will recognize some changes, most notably that Watch the faithful dog is now a stuffed animal, not a flesh-and-blood canine. But the essence of "The Boxcar Children," the powerful bond of family, is all there.
'The Boxcar Children'
• What: Orlando Repertory Theatre production of the children's drama based on the book by Gertrude Chandler Warner
• Length: 90 minutes, including a 5-minute "stretch break"
• When: Noon and 4 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 5:30 p.m. Sundays, April 19 -May 20
• Where: Orlando Repertory Theatre, 1001 E. Princeton St., Orlando
• Tickets: $17; $15 seniors and students; $11 ages 17 or younger
• Call: 407-896-7365
• Online: http://www.orlandorep.com
• What else: Sonny's Family Night will follow the 4 p.m. show on Saturday, April 28. Sonny's Bar-B-Q provides dinner to patrons for an additional fee of $5 per adult. Two children younger than 17 eat free with each purchase of an adult meal. Reserve a spot by calling the box office.