Broadway Review Roundup: WAR HORSE
The National Theatre of Great Britain's production of War Horse, presented by Lincoln Center Theater and The National Theatre of Great Britain in association with Bob Boyett, is now in previews at the Vivian Beaumont Theater (150 West 65th Street). War Horse is based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Nick Stafford, with Handspring Puppet Company, and directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris. Opening night is tonight (Thursday, April 14) at 7:00 pm.
The cast of 35 features Stephen James Anthony, Zach Appelman, Alyssa Breshnahan, Richard Crawford, Sanjit De Silva, Matt Doyle, Austin Durant, Joby Earle, Joel Reuben Ganz, Ariel Heller, Peter Hermann, Alex Hoeffler, Brian Lee Huynh, Jeslyn Kelly, Ian Lassiter, Tom Lee, Jonathan Christopher MacMillan, Jonathan David Martin, Boris McGiver, Seth Numrich, Prentice Onayemi, Bhavesh Patel, David Pegram, Kate Pfaffl, Stephen Plunkett, Leenya Rideout, Liam Robinson, Jude Sandy, Hannah Sloat, T. Ryder Smith, Zach Villa, Elliot Villar, Cat Walleck, Enrico D. Wey and Madeleine Rose Yen.
At the outbreak of World War I, Joey, young Albert's beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. He's soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man's land. But Albert (played by Seth Numrich) cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a mission to find him and bring him home. Did the show bring home accolades? Find out now!
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: It takes a team of strong but sensitive puppeteers to bring Joey, a half-Thoroughbred who is sold into a World War I cavalry regiment, to life-size life. And it is how Joey is summoned into being, along with an assortment of other animals, that gives this production its ineffably theatrical magic...it's Joey and the mighty Topthorn who have the most complete personalities and who keep us watching as the plot plods on.
Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: Stafford never departs from the children's-book contours of the story. Albert (played with intense passion by Seth Numrich) must separate from his sad loser of a father and doting mother. He will witness the thundering violence of war and the near- death of his beloved Joey. The climax, which is overwrought and even a bit silly, never is in doubt, ultimately robbing the play of deeper emotional involvement. But Joey? He'll nuzzle his way into your heart. You won't soon forget him.
Scott Brown, New York Magazine: There are many wonders in the Brit import War Horse - the most intense and epic children's entertainment ever mounted on Broadway, and certainly the greatest achievement in large-scale mainstream puppetry since The Lion King...I've heard many people comment that, within minutes, they forgot Joey was a puppet: They saw a real horse. I did, too, but with an unfortunate corollary sensation. The more horselike the puppet became, the more puppetlike I found the human actors.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: the simple story, which, for all its ferocity, is not so much an anti-war play as a play about the false and brutal lessons that boys learn from their fathers (and the father figures who govern them), and must unlearn at their own peril. But the telling of this age-old tale is pure theatrical magic in this story-theater-like production staged for an all-American company by Marianne Elliott (an associate director of the National) and Tom Morris (a.d. of Bristol Old Vic) and given its heart by the magnificent horsemanship of Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, creative masterminds of the Handspring Puppet Company.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: Anyone who fails to respond to "War Horse" on the level of pure spectacle simply doesn't like theater...Unfortunately, there's a catch, and it, too, is big: "War Horse" is the most shameless piece of tearjerking to hit Broadway since "The Sound of Music." If that doesn't stop you in your tracks, buy your tickets now. The fundamental flaw of "War Horse" is that Nick Stafford, who wrote the script "in association" (that's how the credit reads) with South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, has taken a book that was written for children and tried to give it the expressive weight of a play for adults.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: it's hard to imagine how the screen version, due in December, can improve upon the thrilling experience of this stage adaptation, which is as emotionally stirring, visually arresting and compellingly told as anything on the filmmaker's resumé...overall, the presentation and writing are sentimental in the noblest possible way. It's impossible to overstate the effectiveness of Rae Smith's gorgeous design work. Its most evocative element is the torn page of a sketchbook overhead, which maps the shifting action and changing atmosphere with a mix of pencil drawings and projections.
Michael Musto, Village Voice: No, the story is not the issue here. That turns out to be pretty banal and completely secondary to the theatrics, which make this a blazing event worth galloping uptown for...the play--a hit in London--uses superb projections, well calculated mood lighting, and most importantly, master puppeteers who animate the main horse (Joey) and his pals so well that you gasp when they romp past barbed wire and you're outraged when they're abused. The play is pretty conventional in the expositional Act I, if stronger in Act Two's war-related antics, while the acting is encouraged to be too emphatic and screechy.
Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: As anyone who saw this theatrical piece in London well knows, to experience "War Horse" onstage is to wonder how these puppets manage to etch themselves so deeply into your soul. It's partly the sentiment of the story, for sure...These horses (young Joey's puppet-swapping change to maturity is simply breathtaking) seem to pulse in the very air - breathing, churning and always teaching us, or maybe just reminding us, that the world never stands still and that all you can do is find your love and not get mowed down by the big guns.
Matt Windman, amNY: Thanks to a large cast and the most stunning use of puppetry since "The Lion King," this co-production by Lincoln Center Theater and London's National Theatre is absolutely masterful and immensely moving...Be warned that "War Horse" is a genuine tearjerker. But it is not so sentimental as to be off-putting. This is tug-at-your-heartstrings storytelling at its most spectacular and transcendent.
Richard Zoglin, Time: Part of the pleasure of War Horse is seeing the impossible-to-stage made plausible in the most economical and inventive ways: great battles evoked simply by a blinding flash of light, a roar of a cannon, or an interlude of slow motion or stop-action. And the cast is nearly perfect. (My highest praise is that I assumed I was seeing the British production transplanted to New York City; only later did I realize that it has been recast with American actors.) Is War Horse too sentimental? Perhaps. But there's not a moment in its compact two and a half hours when I wasn't fully engaged, moved and inspired by the theatrical imagination on display. And thrilled by a landmark theater event.
Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: Melodramatic? Yes. Sentimental? Sure. And the characters and dialogue are etched in clean, if broad, strokes. But narrative thinness and contrived twists (there are some) are offset by the sheer scope of the production and the achievements of the South African puppet company Handspring.
Melissa Whitworth, Telegraph: The National Theatre design team has recreated and expanded its acclaimed production, famous for its full-size puppet horses in a kind of whalebone corset design created by the Handspring Puppet Company. The show now features a new American cast of actors and puppeteers.
Michael Sommers, NJ Newsroom: The production's truly magical component is provided by Handspring Puppet Company, which created the life-sized animals. The russet-colored Joey, his wartime comrade Topthorn and more creatures, equine or otherwise, are exquisitely-detailed creations that amazingly come to life both through their design by Adrian Kohler with Basil Jones and the remarkable animation given them by their puppeteers.
Mark Kennedy, AP: There are few dry eyes in the house at the conclusion of this tale and that includes both weeping gray-haired Lincoln Center subscribers and sniffling high school field trippers. And why not? There's no shame in crying over a love story between a boy and his horse, even if that horse is made up of cane and plywood. Plus, there's another secret ingredient in those puppets: plenty of heart
Michael Giltz, Huffington Post: It must be the way the part is written because I found the father a bit overplayed here, just like I did in the UK. Otherwise the cast led by the appealing Numrich is solid (with the exception of those accents). But it's the talent that brings Joey to life that is the real star here. (Tpby Sedgwick is the director of movement and horse sequences.) No wonder the young and adult Joey get the final bow and the biggest roar of applause.