Thursday, April 24 2014 3:47 PM EDT2014-04-24 19:47:30 GMT
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What can be said about War Horse that hasn't already been said?
Heaps of praise followed the show from its 2006 London debut with the National Theater, through its Broadway run in 2010, and all the way to a convincing near-sweep of the 2011 Tony awards.
If that wasn't enough, then Steven Spielberg went and made a movie version.
It says a lot for this 2 and a half hour production that the story alone is strong enough to carry a Spielberg film without the gimmick and wonder of a horse puppet.
But the 'horse puppet' is not a gimmick at all. It's something of a lifelike mechanical wonderment. The intricacies of big stage puppetry, so easily lost in a traveling company (as evidenced at any Lion King matinee anywhere besides NYC) are decidedly not lost here. It's the horse that makes the live stage production so impactful. Every familiar whinny, flick of an ear, lanky run, or sniff or step or gallop, is captured, really, to perfection. Kudos to the puppeteering actors for their masterful performances, and a special nod to the vocal work as well.
With the horses being such an elaborate set piece, the rest of the staging is really executed with a 'less is more' mindset. The wide brush stroke hanging above the stage upon which animated backgrounds and important dates are projected is an effective tool, most reminiscent of the most recent anniversary tour of Les Mis. (Think back to Inspector Javert's final song on the bridge, or when ValJean is running through sewer tunnels that switch direction and shape on a screen.) Here, the subtle black and white imagery advanced the plot seamlessly and effectively, in static shots of the home, becoming frantic and dramatic during battle scenes. Otherwise, staging is sparse (No one's looking at it anyway – they're all mesmerized by the horses) but it's effective and well-choreographed.
It's hard to take your eyes of the horses, but if you do for a second, you'll be pleased to know that these guys (it's a cast of mostly men) are acting their faces off. There are many wonderful moments big and small from the lead, Michael Wyatt Cox. I'm sure I missed many small treasures, but notably, an impassioned soliloquy from the actor playing Major Nicholls stood out. Directed at the audience as if he were preparing us, his troops for battle, it was a transcendant little piece of acting. Without spoiling any plot twists, it is safe to say that what they think will be a quick war turns out to be a battle against a strange enemy with unfamiliar weapons and eventually, a long war with no easy solution.
This story is an adventure, part tragedy, part love story, part war story. Maybe some might write it off as schmaltz, or say the plot too predictable, or decide that watching the movie's enough. But if you're looking for a unique night at the theater, and you want to see something unique and even beautiful, this is the show for you.