Taking center stage will be actors and actresses as young as 9 years old at Spring Valley Stagehands community theater beginning Feb. 28.

Spring Valley students Kenny Cosgrove, 12; Evah Butts, 10; Kaitlyn Matthys, 9; and William Webb, 9 will star as the four main stars in "Boxcar Children." The endearing play is based on the classic books by Gertrude Chandler Warner.

The story set in The Great Depression era begins with the death of the children's parents in a tragic boating accident. Before they are separated by authorities, the four youngsters run away into the countryside and happen upon different memorable characters. Their new home is a boxcar, where they cooperate with and love each other.

"The togetherness and work ethic they show is a good family message," Director Ann Turner said. "Without giving it away, it has a happy ending."

Turner has directed at Spring Valley Stagehands since 1985 and said this will be a debut showing of the "Boxcar Children" play for Stagehands.

The four main cast members have experienced acting in school plays and summer school performances, but never in a full-length play at Stagehands.

"Those kids carry about 95 percent of this show," Turner said. "A full-length play is quite a challenge for them but they're really rising to it."

Stagehands typically relies on high school and college-aged students to act in musicals and plays, along with some adult talent, so to have younger actors is somewhat new.

Matthys, who plays Violet and is in third grade, said she was looking forward to pretending to be a different person.

Each of them agreed the hardest part about preparing for the performance since January was memorizing over 150 pages worth of lines.

"I'm really good at them," Webb, who plays Benny, said. Webb is in third grade with Matthys.

"Staying in character is really hard," he added.

"When we first started we were all upstairs just looking through the book and reading," Butts, who plays Jessie, said. "The funnest part was when we went to the stage and started blocking it out."

Butts is in the fifth grade at Spring Valley.

Cosgrove, who plays Henry, is the oldest main actor. He is in sixth grade.

Cosgrove said he had read the books and seen the movies and was interested in trying out for the part to be more independent.

In total, 21 children tried out for the Boxcar Children parts.

There are other high school-aged actors and actresses along with adults who are new to acting. These include: Emma Esanbock, Abbey Graham, Carter Turner, Darice Butts, Sam Niebeling, Alicia Acken, Mason Johnson and Shelby Kerg

"I'd say there are two with some real experience and everybody else is kind of newbies," Turner said.

There will be four performances at the downtown Spring Valley theater, Feb. 28-March 2 at 7 p.m. and a 2 p.m. showing on March 3.

Tickets are available to purchase at www.svstagehands.org