Every year, thousands of elementary students tour the California Railroad History Museum in Old Sacramento. Now the B Street Theatre’s Family Series is staging an original show targeting young audiences. Capital Public Radio Arts Critic Jeff Hudson reviews “Going West: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad.”
Textbooks contain facts, and museums deal in artifacts, says Hudson. But when you go to a theater to see a play, you’re talking about entertainment, and that’s what this show is. It portrays the building of the Transcontinental Railroad set to a brisk vaudeville beat, with a nod and a wink, designed to capture and sustain the interest of an audience of fourth-graders – and maybe a few parents and grandparents along for the ride.
It’s California History as retold by Groucho Marx and W.C. Fields, according to Hudson. Those references will be lost on the kids, but grandparents will smile.
The core of the show, says Hudson, is the laying of the rails which is acted out ensemble style as a work song. “Thousands of workers, divided into teams, working constant, like a giant machine. First up, the iron men. Two rails at a time are moved into place, by iron men working in teams of eight. Thirty feet long, over 500 pounds, the heavy iron rails all tumble to the ground.”
The rapid pace of construction is underlined by some nifty music by composer Noah Agruss, which contributes a lot to this show.
“Lift up, heave ho, five hundred pounds! Lift up, heave ho, five hundred pounds.”
This show is good at presenting the spirit of the era in a lively, entertaining way. But you do want to keep in mind, it’s not intended as a sober documentary, and the script occasionally plays a little fast and loose with geography, like the elevation of Donner Pass. But the purpose of this show is firing up young audiences and getting them interested in how California became the state it is today, says Hudson. And by that measure, this show succeeds in what it sets out to do.