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\Orphan Train delivers

Doug Katsaros stared blankly at the headline on his computer screen.

Orphan train survivors reunite, it said.

"I thought, those four words don't even go together," he said.

Curious, he clicked on the link. The story, it turned out, was about four former orphans who had been part of the so-called "Orphan Train" movement. For roughly 75 years, beginning in 1856, thousands of orphaned children were placed on trains that took them throughout the United States and Canada. Those trains delivered the children to new homes where they worked on farms, marking what is widely considered the beginning of foster care.

After reading the story, Katasaros wrote his own " in a dream. That vision grew into "Orphan Train," a musical being staged at the New York State Theatre Institute from April 18 to 25.

This is the second time "Orphan Train" has been put on at NYSTI, and Karasaros and his fellow collborators hope this string of performances serves as a springboard for a national tour of "Orphan Train." Karasaros, for one, envisions the play traveling along the path the orphan trains used to follow.

And of course, he knows a little something about making a vision come true.

"We worked very hard" to make "Orphan Train" a reality, he said. "It seems like it's following its natural path."

After his dream, Katasaros called a friend, lyricist Michael Barry Greer, who in turn contacted author Larry (L.E.) McCullough. The three men got together, and "I walked the dream out in front of them," Katasaros said.

Although Katasaros' background is in music, he didn't immediately write any music for the piece. Instead, he, Greer and McCullough began fleshing out the story and characters. They decided to focus on six Iowa-bound orphans: the rebellious, headstrong Barney thirsting for fortune and a brother he hardly knows in California, an Irish girl named Bridget who has dark secrets; privileged Jenny, who is stunned to be on an orphan train; her clumsy little brother, Peter; cynical yet needy James Henry; and Emma, the good girl.

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