BWW Reviews: WARHORSE Prances Onto the Stage of the Music Hall in Kansas City
With the smooth style and graceful stride of a thoroughbred, Warhorse pranced onto the stage of the Music Hall in Kansas City on Tuesday April 1. From the Broadway Across America series Warhorse is based on a book by Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Nick Stafford, and in association with Handspring Puppet Company.
The costumes and drawings by Rae Smith tell the story of a horse named Joey, from foal to being sold to the British army and going to war, and the boy who loved him. The drawings appearing above the stage aid in developing the action. Adrian Kohler with Basil Jones for Handspring Puppet Company designed the puppets and provided direction. Life sized horses, a goose on a wheel, and birds on long poles all help create the mood of twentieth century farm life.
Toby Sedgwick, the director of movement and horse choreography (yes, I said choreography) presented the movement so realistically that it was mystifying. The movement of the horses is so convincing that some of the dialogue and action on the stage is missed, due to the fascination with the animals. Whether walking across the stage, eating from a pail, or rearing on the back legs the movement is breathtaking and causes moments of awe with the audience.
The magnificent puppeteers for opening night were Joey as a foal Mairi Babb, Catherine Gowl, and Nick Lamedica; Joey puppeteers Jon Hoche, Brian Robert Burns, and Jessica Krueger; Topthorn puppeteers James Duncan, Adam Cunningham, and Aaron Haskell; Coco puppeteers Patrick Osteen and Dayna Tietzen; and Heine puppeteers Brendan Murray and Caden Douglas. Do not forget the cause of several outbursts of laughter, the goose with puppeteer James Duncan.
Gene Gillette portrayed Ted Narracott, the father of Albert and the person who purchases Joey at auction. Gillette is convincing in the role of the man who makes a promise, only to go back on his word, betraying his son.
Michael Wyatt Cox gives a powerful performance as Albert Narracott, developing his character from a young boy who cares only for his horse to the soldier attempting to stay alive. In Act I, Albert comes off as bland and difficult to like (another teen lacking responsibility or direction). As his character evolves into manhood, Long's performance becomes more dynamic until it pulls at the heartstrings late in Act II.
Andrew Long as Arthur Narracott, Maria Elena Ramirez as Rose Narracott, and Brendan Murray as Lieutenant James Nicholls all give strong performances advancing the plot. Andrew May gives a superb performance as Captain Friedrich Muller, the German soldier who trades uniforms with a dead corpsman.
The production includes intermittent background story telling in song and music. Spiff Wiegand performs as the Instrumental Song Man and John Milosich appears as the Vocal Song Man. Milosich has a marvelous voice and the songs added emphasis at strategic points of the show.
Warhorse continues through Sunday April 6 with evening performances Tuesday through Saturday begin at 7:30 p.m. and a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee. Sunday performances are at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Purchase tickets at the Theater League website or Ticketmaster.