Adapted by Nick Stafford
in association with handspring Puppet Company
Directed by Bijan Sheibani
Based on the original direction by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
Awe-inspiring and technical masterpiece awaits with WarHorse
There are many ways to appreciate WarHorse, the Play. A viewing of the Spielberg film and/or reading the novel by Michael Morpugo will cover the grand spectacle of Devon, England and war-torn France in WWI. Both, especially the film, are breathtakingly real. But the genius of the wonderful staging of the play lies in the blend of fine sets (by Rae Smith), vivid sound (by Christopher Shutt), lighting (by Paule Constable) with the fabulous video projections (by 59 Productions) with the amazing use of 8 x 10 ft. life-sized puppet horses (designed by Adrain Kohler with Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company). Add a terrific ensemble of actors led by Andrew Veenstra as Albert, the boy who trains and befriends Joey, the horse and WarHorse becomes a major theatrical triumph not seen on stage in Chicago since The Lion King. The horse puppets with a game goose and many birds became empathetic characters in Warhorse. It is fair to say that Joey, the horse is the lead character.
WarHorse is the anti-war powerful story of young Albert’s beloved horse, Joey, who after being raised and taught to pull a plow by Albert, is enlisted into the British Calvary to fight in France in World War I. This epic war tale demonstrates the early 20th Century bond between man and horse. The Albert-Joey bond was echoed both in Devon, England (where Joey was breed) and on the war front in France. The sight of a horse along the trench-infested front was a morale booster to soldiers on both sides. After Joey becomes a Calvary mount, Albert (still too young for military service) joins the British Army so that he can find and bring back Joey to Devon.
See the horrors of war as we witness Joey being caught in enemy crossfire as he ends up serving both sides of the war before landing tangled in barbed-wire in no man’s land near the war’s end. Joey moves from a cavalry mount to an ambulance horse to being an artillery pulling horse. WarHorse, besides vividly defining the human horrors of war, aptly demonstrates the terrible plight of horses during WWI. 484, 000 horses died in the Great War; of the one million horses sent to France by the British, only 62, 000 returned!
WarHorse is the remarkably theatrical staged saga filled with courage, loyalty, and friendship from both men and animals. The production is echoed and underscored by original British folk songs (by Adrian Sutton) sung by John Milosich with Nathan Koci on the accordion. But the main feature in this sprawling epic are the horse puppets deftly acted and manipulated by three dedicated actor/puppeteers: Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton and Rob Laqui as Joey and the three other horses on stage. The look, the movement, and the personality of Joey (and others) marvelously came to life. Since theatre is about the audience’s use of imagination, these puppets easily came to life on stage. We love Joey and we cheer for him throughout. The stirring music, the vivid sounds, and lighting together with the many innovative stagecraft elements makes WarHorse a thrilling theatrical event. The immense power of the live stage to tell stories, even grand epics, is cleverly presented in WarHorse.
Lovers of the novel and the film will cherish the imagination and craft of WarHorse, the play. This tour is one of the best tours to grace a Chicago stage in years! I’d make WarHorse as special holiday gift to the theatre lovers in your family. It is something special. Hurry, WarHorse is only here in Chicago until January 5, 2012. don’t miss it.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: December 18, 2012
Form more info checkout the WarHorse page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL, call 800-775-2000,www.broadwayinchicago.com, tickets $30 – $67 – $97, running time is2 hours, 30minutes with intermission, through January 5, 2013