Saturday, April 9, 2011

War Horse ****

Three cheers to Lincoln Center Theater for bringing this thrilling production to New York! I will confess that I was not all that keen on seeing an adaptation (by Nick Stafford) of a 1982 children's novel (by Michael Morpurgo) about horses in World War I, with puppets no less. First produced at the National Theatre in 2007, it returned for a second run the next year and then moved in 2009 to the West End, where it is still drawing large crowds. LCT has mounted it (pun intended) at the Vivian Beaumont with the original London creative team and 35 American actors. The results are splendid. The word "puppet" doesn't begin to do justice to the magnificent life-size creatures, each inhabited by two or three actors, that grace the stage. The actors who play humans have their work cut out for them to win and hold our attention when there's a horse --or a goose -- onstage. They mostly succeed. Seth Numrich makes a winning Albert, the boy who raises the foal Joey only to have him sold to the British Army by his drunken father (Boris McGiver). What's a boy to do? Lie about his age and enlist, obviously, to search for Joey in war-torn France. Many adventures ensue, some of them sentimental, predictable and manipulative. But so what? It isn't often that you get to see such brilliant stagecraft. The puppets (by Handspring Puppet Company), the horse choreography (by Toby Sedgwick), the effective use of the Beaumont stage's rotation and elevation capabilities, the excellent projections and animations, the period songs, the fine ensemble cast and the fluid direction (by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris) all combine to produce a powerful experience. I dare you not to shed a tear!

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