The Polar Express Train Ride
Immersive train experience
Based on the book and characters by Chris Van Allsburg,
Through Dec. 30.
Whippany Station, parking lot 80 South Jefferson Road, Cedar Knolls whippanythepolarexpressride.com
By GWEN OREL
Adrian Bergstrom-Shaw plays a Hero Child on “The Polar Express Train.”
He’s one of 11 who play the role in the immersive performance — based on the 1985 Caldecott-winning book that was made into a Tom Hanks-starring film in 2004 — that runs through Dec. 30 on special trains leaving from Whippany Station.
The Glenfield Middle School sixth-grader feels like a big kid when he reassures little kids on the train, many in their jammies, that Santa exists.
The story follows a boy who, offered the first gift of Christmas from Santa, chooses a bell from Santa’s reindeer. Later he discovers his parents cannot hear it: only those who truly believe can hear the bell ring.
The train is six cars long with two casts performing at the same time (one for three cars). Dirty blonde and smiley, Bergstrom-Shaw is already an experienced actor. He has an agent (as do his two sisters); he has been a featured background player in “Madam Secretary;” he has made a commercial about Lyme disease.
But he did not set out to be an actor. He fell into it, while accompanying his sister to an audition.
“My mom was crazy about theater. She was usually in the crew because she couldn’t sing.”
His mother, Gina Shaw, laughed.
“She’s accepted it,” he said with a grin.
Big sister Annika, 13, is in a production of “Les Miserables” in the Bronx. Hillside student Katia, 9, just finished playing Zuzu in “It’s a Wonderful Life” in Cranford.
It’s especially nice for Bergstrom-Shaw to play the Hero Child because he grew up with his mother reading the book to him.
Like any good actor, Bergstrom-Shaw loves the audience, especially the children who ride the train.
“It’s kind of like being an adult before your time,” he said.
“It’s like making the magic of Christmas for little kids,” his mother said.
He loves it when the conductor picks out a tiny child in the audience, says “I heard you lost something,” and has a child hand him a package.
On a Sunday afternoon, Adrian had ridden the train already. Mom was making cookies for their annual holiday cookie party.
Their Montclair home was determinedly Christmasy: lighted reindeer, two Christmas trees, pillows that say “jingle.”
He’s not planning on being an actor, he said, “but if I don’t have anywhere else to turn, then I’ll do it.”