Saturday, February 11, 2012

Broadway's “War Horse” will charge into your heart and soul

A dramatic charge scene from "War Horse"

 By Cheryl Thornburg
Of the hundreds of theater productions I have seen, none has affected me like “War Horse,”  which is currently playing at Lincoln Center in New York.
“War Horse” is visually and emotionally stunning. At the heart of its magic are the magnificent life-size horses created by the Handspring Puppet Company.  It is uncanny how lifelike these animals are. Though there are three actors operating each one, they quickly almost disappear as the essence of the horses captivates the audience.
For me, the “magic” is even more personal. My father, Russ Robinson, was a puppeteer.  His marionettes were a major part of my childhood and I loved watching him bring his “Pixies” to life.  Throughout the show, I kept thinking how much he would have loved it, how much this next generation of puppets would have thrilled and inspired him, as it is thrilling and inspiring thousands of others.
But this is much more than a giant extravagant puppet show. It is a poignant play about a pivotal time in history, the First World War, and the people on both sides who lived it.  Many will be familiar with the story due to the current movie of the same name. For those who are not, it is based on a book by Michael Morpugo about a young man, Albert Narracott, who raises a young horse, Joey, and the incredible bond that develops between them. When Joey is drafted to serve as a cavalry horse in World War I, Albert is devastated and eventually joins the army to search for his horse. It is the story of family ties and rivalries, the horror of war, and humanity at its best and worst.
The non-equine actors in this huge ensemble cast create such memorable characters, that although they are fictional, you believe that they had been real.
Andrew Durand as Albert with Joey
There are many notable performances, too many to mention all of them here, but a few stood out for me. 
First, kudos to the teams who brought Joey and Topthorn, the equine stars, to life. The amazing coordination, skill and talent required to create these characters, is unparalleled. From the flicking of the ears to pawing the ground, to shying away from strangers, every action was totally natural and believable.
There are some individual actors who made indelible impressions on me.
Andrew Durand, plays Albert, the young man who raises Joey and establishes an unbreakable bond with him. His interaction with Joey is so natural and sincere, that it is easy to believe he’s dealing with a living breathing creature. It is the interaction between “human” and “equine” actors that takes this show to a whole new level.
Madeleine Rose Yen, plays Emelie, the young French girl, who gets caught up in the war when the Germans arrive in her village. Her portrayal is riveting.  Whether trying to communicate with the German officer or befriending the horses, she has a gift for enchanting them and the audience.
David Lansbury delivers a finely nuanced performance as the German officer, Hauptmann Friedrich Muller. There is a depth and complexity, showing a very human side to what could have been a very stereo-typed character.
Dramatic and compelling performances are turned in by Andy Murray and Alyssa Bresnahan as Albert’s parents and David Manis and Stephen James Anthony as his uncle and cousin, respectively.
The complexity of the characters is another key to the success of this play which can be attributed to Nick Stafford’s adaptation the novel. Much like real life, there is a lot of ”gray” in the people and situations portrayed. The Good versus Evil is set aside as people are seen through the eyes of a horse who knows nothing about nations and borders.
The storyline is tied together and moved forward by a series of haunting folk melodies, sung with passion and poignance by Kate Pfaffl.
Completing the package are some at times subtle, and at times dramatic, lighting and sound effects. Eerie backlighting and staccato gunfire for the war scenes creates the essence and scope of battle on a very minimalist stage.
Anyone connected to this production, from directors to stagehands, should be very proud. It is ground-breaking, provocative theater that will leave a lasting impression for anyone who sees it.

“War Horse” is currently playing at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center.  For more informatio, tickets or a sneak peek, check out photos and video at:

A touring production is in the works for the 2012-2013 season which will be coming to 19 cities, including  Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and East Lansing, Mich. If you get the chance — don’t miss this incredible experience.

For a short video about how Handspring Puppet Company created the horses, go to


Anonymous War Horse said...

I was able to see War Horse in October, it’s beautiful in both how it’s written and how it’s performed. Seriously one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.

August 28, 2012 at 6:32 AM 

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