Monday, August 20, 2012

theatre review WAR HORSE, Broadway, August 8

A "blogger's night" on Broadway provided the opportunity for us to revisit last year's Tony winner for Best Play, War Horse.  Seeing a show a second time is usually a good way to notice things you might have missed the first time around, which in the case of a show like War Horse, that has a huge cast, a giant stage and is set over many years, is a huge plus.  However, seeing a show more than a year after it opened and with an almost completely new cast can sometimes be a negative if the new cast isn't up to the same level that the original cast was.   And, considering that the plot twists of the play along with the ending are already known when you make a second visit, that alone can make the second viewing less of a rewarding experience than the first.

I won't go into a complete overview of the plot of the show, since I did that already in my original review you can read here, but I'll simply state that this play shows the horrors of war and the effect it has on numerous people.  Focusing on a teenage boy Albert and the horse he loves, Joey and how they both end up in the middle of World War I, War Horse brings to life not only the impact that war has but also through the use of imaginative puppets Joey and several other horses and animals as well.   The play won six Tony Awards including Best Play as well as one for the Handspring Puppet Company who created Joey and Topthorn, the horse Joey befriends in the war.

Andrew Durand and "Joey"
While this is an ensemble show with even many of the supporting actors playing multiple parts it really is the part of Albert that sets the tone for the show.  He is a teenage boy in love with his horse and his country, if played too over the top it could bring down the dramatic thrust of the play, and if played too melodramatic it could threaten the emotional balance of the show.  Fortunately Andrew Durand perfectly plays the part, both the emotional teenage boy in act one, who loves his horse and hates the obstacles that get in his way of being with Joey and the slightly older boy who quickly becomes a man in act two when he is fighting for his country. 

Andy Murray as Albert's father was wonderful as the broken down man who drinks too much and gambles on the wrong things and the scenes that highlight both the struggles and love he has for his wife and his son are the emotional center of the play.  While I enjoyed David Lansbury as the German officer Muller who cares for Joey and Topthorn once they come under German ownership, I didn't think he had quite the stage presence of Peter Hermann who played that part originally.  Sanjit De Silva as the English officer who buys Joey and rides him into the war had the appropriate balance of compassion and power and his scenes with Albert were touching. 

Several original cast members are still with the show including Alyssa Bresnahan as Albert's mother, David Pegram as the soldier Albert becomes friends with and Kate Pfaffl as the Song Woman.   All three are giving richer performances then they did a year ago and the play is even better because of them.  Bresnahan in particular, who as the strong wife and mother who always has to take charge of the situation could become a caricature or stereotypical character but Bresnahan has a firm control of the part and her final moments in the show are especially memorable.

The staging by Tony winners Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris is highly effective and even in the large ensemble scenes is staged appropriately so your eye is drawn to the focus of the scene.  The creative elements of the show are even more memorable on a second viewing including the extremely rich lighting design by Paule Constable, the inventive set design by Rae Smith and clear sound design by Christopher Shutt, all three won Tony Awards for their work.

While the melodramatic moments of the play are slightly more apparent on a second viewing along with the fact that some of the scenes are a little slow going while still other plot points are somewhat brushed over, the magic of the show is still alive.  I once again was completely blown away with how you believe there are horses on the stage, you still see the three puppeteers controlling Joey and Tophorn, but somehow your mind ignores them and focuses instead on the majesty of the horses in front of you. 

So, War Horse is still a powerful, moving play and a rewarding and emotional theatrical experience filled with some of the most imaginative things you'll see on a Broadway stage.

Official Show Site

Montage of scenes from the Lincoln Center production:

Behind the scenes with Stephen James Anthony, one of the original ensemble members who now plays Albert's cousin in the show:

A brief behind the scenes clip of the puppeteers who bring Joey to life:


  1. I saw it a week ago it was amazing, the acting is superb, and it made me bawl like a baby I give it a 10/10