Polar Express Will Take You to the North Pole

by | Nov 10, 2021 | Arts

Do you believe in Santa Claus?

You will if you hop aboard The Polar Express for the train ride of your life starting Nov. 12.

The Polar Express returns to the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer to travel to the North Pole through Dec. 23. After that, Santa will be very busy.

The Covid pandemic took the fun out of Christmas 2020, but with precautions, Santa, his helpers, the chefs, the hero kids and the conductor are coming back to Spencer to bring joy to all the good girls and boys in Rowan County.

“The Transportation Museum is taking care of all the acting talent as well as coordinating the event this year,” says Marcus Neubacher, director of administration for the North Carolina Transportation Museum Foundation.

The museum used to partner with a local theatre group, but the group was not available this year.

So museum staff has had several auditions to find the perfect elves and chefs and all the others. “We have had a number of people interested in all the roles,” Neubacher says.

Using Local Talent

“We do have some help from people who have a theater background,” he says.

Salisbury Dance Academy will help with choreography, along with several other people.

Some people with the local theater groups have auditioned.

“Two key people running sound and helping with coordination worked with Lee St Theatre , and they’re coming back.”

Auditions brought a great turnout, and Neubacher put the word out through social media and various acting groups. “I feel like we cast a big net to get folks in; we got a lot of repeat people; some people age out or move on, but we’re finding people who are interested.”

Repeat Performer

Trey Germano has been working with The Polar Express since 2017. He’s graduating from Catawba College and has been going to the event every year.

“I’ve made a family out of Polar Express,” he says.

This year, he will be the dance captain. “Usually I’m on the parlor car, that sort of became my home car.”

Trey has worked some with production, with dancing, teaching choreography for it. “I do quality control to make sure the shows are consistent and up to the energy level.

“This year going great, we’re working well with the staff, Marcus (Neubacher) and Kelly (Alexander, director and chief operating officer of the North Carolina Transportation Museum/Foundation).”

Trey is a business administration major with a minor in dance. He’s also the Student Government Association president.

“I love making it feeling like home for the holidays.”

The reason he keeps coming back? “About 2018, there was a family not having the best time, the kid was a toddler who was not understanding everything, but I wanted to make it fun for everyone. I make it a goal to ask every child what they want for Christmas, that gives parents a hint.

On that day, the little girl was having a horrible ride, then Trey started asking her questions. “By the end of the ride, she was up dancing with me and having the best time. … When I asked her what she wanted (for Christmas), it was the first her parents had heard of it. They thanked me for making it a memorable Christmas and for getting her in the mood. I want to make it the best experience for everyone.”

Getting it Right

Danielle Hough, the museum’s special events director, is No.1 in charge of the event and is again working with people who are stage managers, and someone who is going to work with theater management, coaching performers and getting the timing right, looking for things to be right.

“We need their help so we know what looks right, we can see the interactions, what we want to fix. They know how to fix things and make it right,” Marcus says. “We work together. We know museums and events, and we need help with the theatre part. They know how to fix things.”

The stage managers are the two people on board the train who control the sound and run the show; they’ve worked in local theater and at Polar Express in the past. The museum runs two trains at the same time.

Virtual Sounds provides all the music and sounds involved in the production.

Ryan Miles is the production manager who helps with staffing and the selection of the crew, as well as calling the cues. Miles works with Lee St theatre.

Certain aspects of the event are core pieces that must be in the production. Neubacher says each site can tailor the ride to fit, with approval from Warner Brothers, which owns the rights to the show. 

“We always get great reviews; the first year, the museum got an award for the event. People come from everywhere, around the state, around the country, even outside the U.S. As restrictions lift, people from all around the states are planning a holiday trip, Neubacher says.

For the 2021 season, all THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride ticket-holders age 12 and older must provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination OR a negative COVID-19 test completed within 72 hours prior to the event. Guests should present these documents with their ticket upon admission.

Given the continued threat of COVID-19 and variants of the virus, face masks are required for indoor areas of the N.C. Transportation Museum, including on trains. Masks must be worn at all times except while actively eating or drinking. Failure to comply may result in denial of boarding or removal. Children under the age of two and individuals with disabilities who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, because of the disability as defined by the Americans with Disability Act are exempt. 

The Transportation Museum is part of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, which has set the Covid requirements. You can read the requirements at https://www.nctransportationmuseum.org/.

The Best Parts

The Conductor and the hero kids and Santa are very important roles, they are the stars people are looking for.

People who go to Polar Express love the hot chocolate dance on the train, which is a small part of the movie, but a big part of the experience, with the costumed chefs showing oversized editions of the book to show kids where they are in the story.

Kids and parents love the North Pole scene, with the first gift of Christmas. “We allow people to get off the train to visit the North Pole, not just go by, but be part of it. Even if it’s raining, people can get off the train for that scene; that’s a highlight,” Neubacher says. The North Pole is at the Roundhouse, the heart of the museum.

Riders board the train at Barber Junction, stop and get off at the Roundhouse, then, when they get back on the train, Santa gets on and gives out the silver bells. After that, parents and children get off the train and can do a lot of other activities, such as having pictures with Santa.

Neubacher says museum staff and volunteers love seeing the reaction of families dressed in their pajamas, all excited. He says what sticks out in his mind all the time is how much people enjoy the whole process.

The gift shop at the Museum will have all the Polar Express books and toys you can imagine. Each child gets a golden ticket.

Get Tickets Now

Speaking of tickets, here is Neubacher’s advice for best results. Buy the tickets online at https://www.nctransportationmuseum.org/the-polar-express-train-ride/. You can also call the museum at 704-469-5321, but the response will be much faster online. Tickets are selling quickly, so get them now.

The dates for the Polar Express are Nov. 12-13, 19 and 21, and 26-28. December dates are 3-5, 9-12, and 14-23. The museum offers seven shows a night, beginning at 4 p.m., with the last show beginning at 8 p.m.; the rides are about 70 minutes each.

For the answers to more of your questions, check out https://www.nctransportationmuseum.org/polar-express-faq/#faq. Or go to the Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/visitnctm.

Upcoming theater

Catawba College presents “The Mad Ones,” Nov. 18-21, at the Florence Busby Corriher Theatre.

Showtimes: Nov. 18-20, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 21, 2 p.m.

Mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved… 18-year-old Samantha Brown sits in a hand-me-down car with the keys clutched in her hand. Caught between a yearning for the unknown and feeling bound by expectation, she telescopes back to a time before her world had fallen apart.

As she relives her senior year, we meet Sam’s well-intentioned helicopter mother Bev and her high school sweetheart of a boyfriend Adam, but it’s her painfully alive best friend Kelly that haunts her. Kelly was everything Sam is not — impetuous and daring. She pushed Sam to break rules and do the unexpected. When Kelly’s killed in a car wreck, Sam loses not only her best friend but also the part of herself that was learning to be brave. Now, Sam has to make a decision. Will she follow her mother’s dreams for her, or will she summon the courage to drive away from her friends and family into a future she can’t imagine?

The script was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s generation-defining novel On the Road, which codified the American mythos of the freedom of the open road and living in the moment, never looking back

Tickets are available at www.catawba.edu/theatretix

Piedmont Players Theater presents “Twelve Angry Jurors,” Nov. 12-14 and Nov. 19-21. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Meroney Theater, 213 S. Main St., Salisbury. Based on “Twelve Angry Men.”

Tensions run high when there are disagreements among a group of strangers who choose the fate of a young man charged with the most heinous of crimes. It looks like an open-and-shut case but one holdout convinces them to look at their consciences … and prejudices … again.

Directed and designed by Dr. Wren Goodrum and featuring a cast of men and women.

For tickets, call 704-633-5471 or go to https://piedmontplayers.com/#tickets

Lee St Theatre presents “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 19-Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m.

There’s a new tenant at Armadillo Acres — and she’s wreaking havoc all over Florida’s most exclusive trailer park. When Pippi, the stripper on the run, comes between the Dr. Phil-loving agoraphobic Jeannie and her tollbooth collector husband — the storms begin to brew. Directed by Joey Moray, technical direction and production by Rod Oden and musical direction by Laurie Klaus.

For tickets, go to https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=lee or

Lee St. theatre is at 329 N. Lee St., Salisbury

Waterworks Visual Arts Center, Beyond the Surface, continues through Jan. 28, 2022. Three themes, one in each gallery. Featuring Sacred Spaces 360, photography by Will James; It’s in the Genes, a mother and daughter show, with Phyllis Steimel and daughter Beth Barger; and The Weight of All That Is, by Liz McKay.Waterworks is at 123 E. Liberty St. in downtown Salisbury. Check out their web page at https://www.waterworks.org/ or go to their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/WaterworksNC.

Meet the artists: Will James, Thursday, Nov. 18, 5-6:30 p,m,; Liz McKay, Thursday, Dec. 9, 3-4:30 p.m.; Phyllis Steimel and Beth Barger, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, 3-4:30 p.m.

Workshops: Lanterns and Mobiles: Capture the Feeling of Fall, Nov. 13, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Students will reproduce natural colorful leaves using printmaking techniques, adjusted for age and ability. More experienced artists will cut their own templates, print on handcrafted paper, and assemble and embellish a lantern to hang or sit on table or shelf. Younger artists love to stamp out leaf designs, then cut them out and dangle to make a wire mobile. All ages will master an age-appropriate level of hand-printing and 3-D design to produce decorations they will be proud to share with their families.

Dec. 10, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Holiday Garlands Made by You from Nature. Kids of all ages will love this hands-on workshop where they will pound the color out of flowers and other natural materials to make the paint for their holiday decorations. Brushing, spattering, and stamping are just some of the techniques they can use to apply color, as well as collaging fresh flowers on each paper shape. Your young artists will be proud to adorn tables, fireplaces, and doorways with their festive garlands. 


Salisbury Symphony presents Beethoven! Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m., Varick Auditorium, Livingstone College, 701 W. Monroe St., Salisbury.

Featuring Livingstone pianist Lawrence Quinnet.

Beethoven is one of the most admired composers in Western music, and to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birthday, Salisbury Symphony will perform the Overture to his Ballet Creatures of Prometheus, his Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, and the less-often-heard Symphony No. 4.

Quinett has been an active concert pianist who has performed recitals, conducted master classes, and judged competitions. He is an assistant professor of piano and music theory at Livingstone College and serves on the Salisbury Symphony’s Board of Directors.

For tickets and more information, go to https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?performance=550339 or visit https://salisburysymphony.org/shows/beethoven/

At Rail Walk Studios and Gallery, “Prism Break” in the Daylight, art by Michael Ploplis, now through Dec. 18. Free. The gallery is open to the public Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Visit http://www.railwalkstudiosandgallery.com/in-gallery.html. For more information on the artist, visit www.artbyploplis.com.

Make and Take Workshops at Rail Walk, with artist Sue Quigley. Classes start at 7 and end at 9 p.m. Cost is $30, all materials provided.

  • Tuesday, Nov. 16, Shelf Liner Holiday Wreath.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 30, Holiday Gnome.
  • Tuesday, Dec. 7, Sublimated Cards
  • Tuesday, Dec. 14, Wooden Personalized Holiday Gift Tags.

Go to http://www.railwalkstudiosandgallery.com/susan-quigley.html for more information and to register.

Trey Germano will be the dance captain at The Polar Express at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer.

Pianist and professor Lawrence Quinnet will be featured with the Salisbury Symphony at Livingstone College for a celebration of Beethoven’s birthday.

About The Author

Deirdre Parker Smith

I grew up in the theater; my father was a set designer and my mother was an actress. My most magical memories are from the days when we worked on stage and backstage together. My father, James “Parkie” Parker was a well-respected member of the theatre arts department at Catawba College for 33 years. Though I was born in New York City, and lived for a time in Washington, D.C., I graduated from Salisbury High School and Wake Forest University and was a writer and editor at the Salisbury Post for 35 years. Watching talented people do their thing is a great joy — acting, singing, playing an instrument, painting, drawing, writing. I’ve been lucky to meet many awesome creative people over the years. Art, in all its forms, heals people, makes connections and gives us a deep joy.