Polar Express kids

In “The Polar Express,” which will be staged at Hilltop Auditorium in Ilwaco, elves Viva Schuka, Nichole Harris, Paige Stoeff and Cella Crain seem destined to steal the limelight with their extreme cuteness.

ILWACO — The cutest elves you will ever meet are about to take to the stage in Ilwaco.

Viva Schuka, Nichole Harris, Paige Stoeff and Cella Crain play elfin characters in “The Polar Express,” a musical being performed at the Hilltop Auditorium in Ilwaco.

Shows are planned 6 p.m. Dec. 13 and 14, and 1 p.m. Dec. 14.

The project is spearheaded by Cheryl Cochran, who teaches middle school special education at Hilltop Middle School and is adviser to the Hilltop Drama Club.

Cochran, a longtime dance teacher who opened the Beach Ballet studio in Long Beach in January, is busy marshaling a cast of 25 actors and 40 dancers. They range in age from 3 to adult.

The production, which Cochran staged on the Peninsula last year, features creative sets and colorful costumes. “The kids in my dance program have five or six costume changes,” she said.

“The Polar Express” is a 1985 picture book by Chris Van Allsburg which became a Tom Hanks movie and stage show. It tells the story of children — many of whom are skeptical about the magic of the season — who board a train to the North Pole.

John Weldon, a U.S. Air Force retiree, made his stage debut this past summer with the Peninsula Association of Performing Artists as a rather suspicious bank customer in “Mary Poppins.”

Now he’s back, playing a classic “good guy” — a familiar character that involves donning a white beard and a jolly red suit. “It is very festive,” Weldon said. “It gets you in the holiday mood.”

Admission to the shows is free, but Hilltop Drama Club students are accepting donations for their toy drive (toys should not be wrapped).

Cochran’s creative zeal extends beyond this production. Once the express has left the station, she will begin thinking of “Aladdin” and a dance production for next spring.

“I want to make sure our kids in this small area are exposed to the arts,” said Cochran, who has taught dance for 40 years. “It’s a way for the younger students to get into theater before they go into high school, or work in community playhouses here or across the river.

“I want to plant a seed. They need to expand and experience the world.”

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