By Darlene Donloe
To ride a horse is to ride the sky. ~Author Unknown
The story of the War Horse is visually stunning, emotional, compelling and stable (pun intended).
But it’s the staging that is worth the price of admission. It’s fluid, multifunctional and effective.
The winner of five Tony® Awards, including Best Play, War Horse galloped into the Hollywood Pantages Theatre on Tues., Oct. 8 and will ride out on Sun., Oct. 13.
“War Horse,” which originated at the National Theater in London, is an epic war play based on the book of the same name by acclaimed British children's writer Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel, adapted for stage by Nick Stafford. The story is set before and during World War 1.
It’s a simple story that delivers a wallop. Boy loves horse. Boy loses horse. Boy finds horse. But what goes on between all that is spine-tingling drama with a bit of comedy.
The main character in the show is Joey, who is brought to life as a Thoroughbred by fabulous puppeteers. They make him gallop, prance, eat and move like a real horse. It’s amazing to watch the life-size puppets. It’s so amazing that at times you forget Joey is a puppet who only comes to life with the help of three amazing handlers. He literally comes to life before your eyes.
Not only is Joey brought to life, but so are other horses, geese, birds and such. It really is quite an accomplishment.
Albert loves his horse. However, when Albert’s father sells the horse, the story takes an emotional dramatic turn. Albert promises his horse that they will be together again in the future.
Joey is enlisted to fight for the English in World War I. He gets caught in enemy crossfire and ends up serving both sides of the war before landing in no man’s land. Determined to find his horse. Albert, who is only 16, enlists hoping to somehow be reunited with Joey and bring him home. Albert finds himself on the frontlines where he displays incredible courage, loyalty and friendship.
The stagecraft in this show is eye-opening. There are several moments in the show when it’s easy to forget you’re watching puppets. One could swear there are horses on stage.
While the puppetry is believable, so too is the acting. When the puppetry, directing, acting, music, lights, costumes and set design all comes together, the result is an entertaining extravaganza on stage.
The company, comprised of 30 actors, includes: Michael Wyatt Cox (Albert Narracott), Andrew Long (Arthur Narracott), David Hurwitz (Billy Narracott), Gene Gillette (Ted Narracott), Maria Ramirez (Rose Narracott) Brenda Murray (Lt. James Nicholls) and Brooks Brantly as Private Schnabel.
Also featured in the cast are: Michael Steward Allen, Mairi Babb, Harlan Bengel, Brian Robert Burns, Ka-Ling Cheung, Adam Cunningham, Caden Douglas, James Duncan, Catherine Gowl Aaron Haskell, Jon Hoche, Curt James, Chad Jennings, Jessica Krueger, Nick LaMedica, Megan Loomis, Gregory Manley, Andrew May, Tim McKeirna, John Milsich, Joe Osheroff, Patricak Osteen, Jon Riddleberger, Dayna Tierzen, Andy Truschinski, Spiff Weigand and Danny Yoerges.
Michael Morpurgo’s novel, War Horse, is also the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s feature film of the same name, which earned six Oscar nominations including Best Picture.
In addition to Best Play, War Horse received Tony® Awards for Best Direction of a Play (Elliott and Morris), Best Scenic Design of a Play (Rae Smith), Best Lighting Design of a Play (Paule Constable), and Best Sound Design of a Play (Christopher Shutt). A Special Tony Award was given to Handspring Puppet Company for their integral work on the production.
War Horse received its world premiere in a limited engagement at the National’s Olivier Theatre in 2007. The play returned to the National Theatre for a second run playing from 2008-2009 before transferring to the West End’s New London Theatre in spring 2009 where it continues to play an open-ended run. War Horse has been seen by more than four million people worldwide.
Lincoln Center Theater and the National Theatre of Great Britain in association with Bob Boyett and War Horse LP, are the producers of the American premiere of War Horse, which opened April 14, 2011, at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.
The National Tour is produced by Bob Boyett and the National Theatre of Great Britain. The Nederlander Organization is also a producer.
Gallop, don’t walk, to see War Horse.
On the Donloe Scale, D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (OK) and E (excellent), War Horse gets an E (Excellent).
War Horse, Hollywood Pantages, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, Tues.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 and 8 p.m. and Sun., 1 and 6:30 p.m. through Oct. 13; orchestra level tickets start at $25, Ticket prices subject to change without notice; 1 800 982 2787, www.HollywoodPantages.com or Ticketmaster.com.