Monday, November 28, 2011

WAR HORSE at the Lincoln Center Theater

It has been several weeks since I attended War Horse at the Lincoln Center and probably a few weeks out until the movie version of the book hits theaters. Plus, I have started to read the book while writing this and I am still mesmerized and captured by my experience at the Lincoln Center. I hate when I have been affected by a production that I can’t find bigger words than wow, brilliant, and amazing. But War Horse is an emotionally engaging, sensory loaded production. What Disney did with The Lion King on Broadway, War Horse brings a new level to the stage and dramatic play experience. Vision, determination, innovation all outside the norm of any live stage that I have ever experienced.

Entering the theatre the stage is dark, bleak and seems foreboding. You see the beginnings of the misty smoke floating beneath the house lights. A ragged page ripped from a sketch book is used as a narrow cyclorama that is suspended above and around the stage. Best use of this device that I have ever seen and one that will be integrated in many future productions. Their cyc/paper floating sketch share projections, color and computer animations throughout the play to help tell the story. I love the use of new technology in live theatre. The thought process and innovation from the page to the stage in this production is mind blowing.
Joey In Storage Between Shows

I did not want to be disappointed. Rave reviews from the industry and friends, a set of Tony awards, the intrigue of following a production unfold for a couple of years thinking I’ll probably never get to see the original production in London or New York. But then the best Birthday present ever happened. Within the opening moments of War Horse I was captured, and yes teary eyed, when Young Joey trotted on stage, struggled to stand and eat and then he looked right at me. His eyes, the twitch of an ear and the swish of the tail, the mist from the countryside and the background music that layered our journey into the story. They had me from the beginning. I was captured.

How could one witness this production and not be in awe of the puppeteers? Puppeteers that are actors, dancers and athletes. An 80lb horse puppet made of bamboo and mesh with hand gears operated by 3 performers. The “handler” for Joey should have been Tony nominated. His work and grace with the puppet is emotional but never obtrusive since he is working outside of and with the puppet. A true and rare performance.

Young Joey Resting Backstage
Beyond the technical spectacle there are love stories on different levels involving friends, families and enemies all centered around the relationship of Joey and his master Albert. Their first meeting and the 7 days of training set the tone as we realize they are committed to each other. The exploration of unrecognized love between man and beast.

What connects all these elements to bring War Horse to life on stage? Breath. From the opening music, to the town’s entrance on stage in the dark, to Young Joey’s entrance you hear and see the use of breath in this production. And when the actors, puppeteers and technicians breathe all together the stage breathes. You breathe and the magic of theatre happens.

Go see the stage production if possible in London, New York or Toronto. The touring production should be just as effective though some staging will have to be cut or reduced to fit the various touring venues. This production raises the bar for all involved in theatre and the performing arts. And it looks like the movie will tell more of Joey's adventures much like the book captures.


Backstage at War Horse

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