A Union County, Illinois woman has adapted Bob Greene’s book, "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen" into a stage show. The woman, Lynn Steveson, told the Southern Illinoisan newspaper that she read the book, decided it would make a good theatrical show and started writing the script in 2005.
She thought it had to be finished because World War II veterans are dying every day.
A cast of local amateur actors from ages 10-66 will take the stage, singing 16 period songs and performing three dances, the Illinoisan said.
The play is set entirely within the walls of the Canteen. A local artist Ellen Spalt recreated the setting from pictures.
“The younger generation knows nothing about this war other than what they read in history books or see in the movies,” Steveson said. “The human side of this war is unknown to the younger generations.”
After eight years and five notebooks filled with notes, Steveson will see her dream become a reality when Canteen takes the stage at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, at the Anna Arts Center. Additional performances are scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13; 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20.
These will be the only four chances to see Canteen because of an agreement with Greene. The production cannot be videotaped for distribution, and the rights agreement covers only one set of performances.
But, for the four nights of performances, the spirit and memories of that WWII hangout — 800 miles west and 70 years in the past — will come alive on a Southern, Illinois stage, the Illinoisan reported.
The story of the North Platte Canteen has been converted to the stage and screen several times.
It is such a great story of generosity; it must be told to future generations, said a playwright in Portland, Ore., who put the story on a Portland stage in 2004.
“It’s a level of American generosity that has never been matched since,” said Hal Long, a 28-year veteran of the theatre, who spearheaded the Portland troupe of actors, the Lumiere Players. The entire troupe came to North Platte to see the location and perform the play in 2007.
Long said he took his story from photographs and interviews.
In 2004, the Nebraska Educational Television network produced a one-hour documentary about the Canteen, including interviews with people who were there. The documentary was distributed nationally in 2006.
In 2006, the legend of the North Platte Canteen was repeated in York, Neb., where a teacher wrote an original one-act play called “Put the Coffee On" that used some of the furniture and equipment of the original Canteen.
In 2007, readers in Henderson County, Ill. read Greene’s book as a community project, and followed up with a play that brought the story to life.
The North Platte Canteen operated 24-7 for four and a half war-torn years.
Rae Wilson launched the Canteen, which in three months grew from a five-person operation to one with 700 volunteer workers.
Each time a train arrived, workers set out a small feast for troops – pheasant sandwiches, bottled milk on ice, pies and cakes, plenty of coffee and free cigarettes.
They partied for 10 minutes and then the train moved out, taking the soldiers to the horror of the largest war the world has ever seen.
Most of the 6 million soldiers who stopped in North Platte never forgot that act of kindness.
As British singer Denis Hurst sang in 2011:
"In America ever after was a soldier who had been
to North Platte, Nebraska and the North Platte Canteen."