Ultimately, however, the show belongs to Seth Numrich as Albert. The Juilliard-trained actor, whom I first admired Off-Broadway in 2009's "Slipping," is the heart and soul of "War Horse." His vivid performance is rigorously honest, with a breathtaking emotional transparency. Commanding the stage like a seasoned vet, Numrich effortlessly provides the considerable size that this production requires. I only hope that his superb work will be recognized come awards season.
WAR HORSE Broadway Reviews
Reviews of War Horse on Broadway. See what all the critics had to say and see all the ratings for War Horse including the New York Times and More...
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.
To describe "War Horse" as awesome is to regret the word's devaluation as praise for a good burger or a pretty haircut. This extravaganza at the Lincoln Center Theater, based on a 1982 English children's book by Michael Morpurgo, is awe-inspiring both as a blast of pure theatrical imagination and as a deep gut-kick about lost innocence in war.
While it's all beautifully acted by an American company, the true stars of this production are the animals, designed by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of the Handspring Puppet Company. Lifelike without any attempt to conceal the artifice, the creatures are magnificent, a thrilling synthesis of art and imagination. It wasn't until after heading home that I stopped to think that I had just cried over a horse that was actually made up of several props held together by visible handlers. This is the power and magic of great theater.
Little wonder that Steven Spielberg is bringing War Horse to the big screen in December — with real horses. But anyone who can should see this marvelous, life-affirming play first. You'll leave the theater emotionally spent but exhilarated.
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.
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.
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.
Theater can be like magic. You can take an assemblage of wire, wood, and mesh — and convince people without a shred of doubt that it is a horse. And not just any horse, but Joey, the beloved half thoroughbred who is the heart and soul of the imaginative, moving new Broadway drama War Horse. First produced at the National Theatre of Great Britain in 2007, the play centers on a gawky British teen named Albert (Seth Numrich) who enlists during World War I hoping to find Joey after his drunken lout of a father (Boris McGiver) sells the steed to the British army. (Steven Spielberg's film version is due in theaters this December.)
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.
Some have branded the show as sentimental. Have we become so jaded that people are called suckers for crying during a good, old-fashioned tale? "War Horse" isn't sentimental: It's just not afraid to be emotional. Ultimately, the show succeeds because it tells children and reminds adults that some of life's joys are made great by terrible hardships.
The battle sequences are also particularly powerful, with evocative sound, lighting and projection effects employed that thoroughly draw us into the action. Such sequences as when the British officer is literally blown off his steed by a flying projectile and another in which Joey is confronted by a menacing tank are staged with a nightmarish intensity.
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.
Like "Gone with the Wind," "War Horse" (a National Theatre of Great Britain and Lincoln Center co-production, at the Vivian Beaumont) is virtually critic-proof. The show—an epic tale of a boy and his horse, based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s book, and performed by humans and puppets—is beyond dramaturgy, and it’s too big and emotional for anything as small as opinion. It’s a force of nature, or, more accurately, a show about the nature of man, which the co-directors, Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, shape with the utmost control and artistry. Everything about it works, especially the animals—horses, birds, even a goose—which were created by the Handspring Puppet Company. (Actors manipulate the puppets to convey the animals’ souls.) In a way, the ambitious choreography of the piece—there are thirty-five actors in the cast—makes “War Horse” as much a dance work as a theatre piece. I don’t know who wins here, Thespis or Terpsichore, but why choose?
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.
Directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris knit together striking design elements (the puppets, video animations, painterly light and smoke displays) and a sterling ensemble of local troupers (including T. Ryder Smith, Richard Crawford and Alyssa Bresnahan) to build a triumphant epic of human and animal spirit, working together to heal some of the perilous wounds we have inflicted on nature. War Horse will make you believe that puppets live and breathe, and perhaps even have souls.
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.
The story is so programmed to elicit tears that the theater should consider issuing waterproof Playbills. (The intermittent, ancient-sounding melodies, sung by Kate Pfaffl, Liam Robinson and the rest of the ensemble, resonate with the horses’ soulful bearings.) As family-pleasing entertainment goes, “War Horse” is as surefire as Broadway gets.
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.
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.
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.
It's too bad the story is so sadly simplistic, because Ms. Elliott's and Mr. Morris' stagecraft is so sublime. This play is full of literally breathtaking moments of theatrical inventiveness and stunning visuals—Joey and his fellow horses; a cavalry charge on the front; even the small, witty touch of an overeager goose on Albert's farm, a puppet on a bicycle wheel pushed by an actor. But, for all that, War Horse is based on a children's story, and it remains no more emotionally complex. Not long into the second act, the tedium of the predictable story begins to weigh more heavily than the thrill of the visual creativity. That's when you realize you're watching the cloying tale of a boy with an unnatural love for a half-thoroughbred.
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.
Lovers of literature and drama, who might be looking for something that goes a little beyond the simple truths stated above, will find that they've come to the wrong shop. I assume that Michael Morpurgo's "young-adult" novel, from which Nick Stafford has carved the script for this elaborate spectacle, allots some time to grounding its events more fully in reality, but it's still essentially not much more than Lassie, Come Home with a horse instead of a dog, and World War I to heighten the tension. Sentimental animal stories tend to run true to form, and this one will surprise nobody: Boy gets horse, boy loses horse, but boy and horse find each other at the end, just in time for the Armistice bells to ring on cue.