BWW Reviews: WAR HORSE at the Capitol Theatre is Epic and Intimate
The national tour of WAR HORSE, currently playing the Capitol Theatre, is moving and at once epic and intimate. It is deeply theatrical in its simple, cerebral staging, but it is also spectacular in its groundbreaking puppeteering and its effective, restrained use of projections and lighting effects.
WAR HORSE (based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Nick Stafford in association with Handspring Puppet Company) is a National Theatre of Great Britain production that has achieved great success throughout the world. Its Broadway engagement at Lincoln Center Theater garnered 5 Tony Awards in 2011, including Best Play. The story follows two main characters: Joey the horse and the teenage boy who loves him--Albert Narracott. Joey is the one ray of sunshine in Albert's miserable life, and the young man will do everything he can to keep him. When Joey is taken away from Albert, we are plunged with them into the dark world of World War I, clinging to the hope that one day they may find one another again. The story is dramatic and poignant with occasional touches of humor to lighten the mood.
The gorgeous life-size horse puppets (design, fabrication, and direction by Adrian Kohler with Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company) raise the show from the plane of something an acclaimed university theatre program might present and transform it into a larger-than-life, must-see event.
The movement of the horses invites wonder in two ways. First, through its near-perfect replication of the animal's natural beauty, which can sometimes cause the audience to almost forget the horses aren't alive. Second, through cognizance of the technical marvel of the puppets themselves. The movement of the puppeteers is like an intricately choreographed ballet (thanks to director of movement and horse choreography Toby Sedgwick).
The acting and puppeteer ensemble is uniformly superb, and it is a credit to their talent and professionalism that none stand out as much more worthy of praise than others. Memorable players in the first act include Michael Wyatt Cox as Albert, Gene Gillette as his father, Ted, Maria Elena Ramirez as his mother, Rose, Andrew Long as his uncle, Arthur, and David Hurwitz as his cousin, Billy. In the second act, Andy Truschinski as Private David Taylor and Andrew May as Captain Friedrich Muller are also noteworthy.
Both vocal and instrumental folk music (by Adrian Sutton and John Tams) is used with great success to heighten the emotion and intensify the immersiveness of the environment. (It is authentically performed on stage by John Milosich, Spiff Wiegand, and the rest of the cast.) The music, accented dialogue, and simple visual splendor create a unique experience by inviting the audience to experience another time, place, and culture.
Sets, costumes, and drawings by Rae Smith; animation and projection design by 59 Productions; and lighting by Paule Constable and Karen Spahn all are precisely measured to deliver the desired effect and add just the right amount of spectacle without being overblown. This creates haunting stage pictures that will stay with you long after the curtain call.
WAR HORSE is the perfect marriage between universally accessible entertainment and intellectual, artistic expression. It is something the like of which you will probably not have the chance to see in Utah again, so take advantage of this opportunity.
WAR HORSE plays the Capitol Theatre for a limited engagement through Sunday, April 27, 2014. For tickets, call ArtTix at 801-355-ARTS (2787) or visit www.arttix.org.