Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Broadway Across America - Ft. Lauderdale presents the National Theatre of Great Britain production of War Horse at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. War Horse is based on the 1982 novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo, adapted for stage by Nick Stafford in association with Handspring Puppet Company.
The original production of War Horse opened in the Olivier Theatre at London's National Theatre in October of 2007. It closed in February of 2008, returning for a second run in September of that same year, and closing in March of 2009. The play then transferred to the West End's New London Theatre, where it opened in April of 2009, receiving an Olivier Award, an Evening Standard Theatre Award, and a London Critics' Circle Theatre Award. War Horse came to the US, opening on Broadway at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in April of 2011. Though the production was only scheduled to have a limited run until June of that year, it soon became open-ended due to strong ticket sales and critical acclaim. The Broadway production closed in January of 2013 after 718 performances. The play received five Tony Awards, four Outer Critics Circle Awards, two Drama League Awards, and one Drama Desk Award. In addition, Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of Handspring Puppet Company won the Special Tony Award for their work on War Horse.
Set in England in 1914, the story begins when Ted Narracott outbids his brother Arthur for the auction of a foal in a bout of misplaced rivalry. As the 39 guineas Ted has paid is the mortgage money, his wife Rose is none too pleased. Their teenage son Albert forms an unusually strong friendship with the horse he names Joey as he cares for and trains him. The touching story follows Joey and Albert across the English countryside and onward to France after they are forcibly separated during the war.
Joey and the other horses are brought to life through the use of puppetry. They are often operated by three people at the same time, who provide the sounds of the animals as well. Their craftsmanship and team work is humbling to watch. Each breath, each twitch of a muscle or flick of a tail is perfectly executed. Even the faces of those actors working the horses reflect the action at hand. They are the real stars of the show, yet in truth, when they come out for final bows the audience is barely able to recognize them because they have done their jobs so well that we stop seeing them, and only see the animals they create for us.
The plaintive voice of John Milosich as Song Man tendering sentimental Irish ballads mixes with the changing sounds of everything from birds to gun fire overhead. Projected line drawings by Rae Smith blend together the feel of each scene. One of the most memorable images is a blossoming field of red poppies dissolving into pools of blood amidst the sound of advancing tanks and the fallen bodies of soldiers on stage.
Through all of these superb technical elements, the story remains the focal pointa simple story of the bond between a young man and a horse. As Albert, actor Alex Morf must take a back seat to Joey, all the while convincing us of his feelings for this horse portrayed through the most advanced use of puppetry. There are magical moments in theatre that only the true theatre junkie understands. It's that theatrical experience that doesn't merely entertain and inform but transforms and elevates. It can happen anywhere, from the most extravagant production Broadway has to offer to the simplest of black-box stage readings. And in those moments the audience is truly transported somewhere else. Whenever or wherever it happens to you, you are hooked for life; sometimes going from show to show looking for that fix. One even may wonder from time to time if their overexposure to theatre has rendered them critical and jaded. And then it happens again, and one has no choice but to be left in awe of the glorious creativity, talent and vision that is War Horse.
Those who know me know that I am slow to rise to my feet during the all too frequent standing ovations given on press nights in South Florida amidst audiences peppered with friends and family. On the night I attended War Horse, however, I was among the first to stand and applaud one of the finest performances I have ever seen in my life.
The touring production of War Horsewill be appearing at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through May 19, 2013. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts is located in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District at 201 SW Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Presentations at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts are sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Support is also contributed by the Broward Performing Arts Foundation, Inc. The Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment Consortium is a cultural partnership between the Performing Arts Center Authority, Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Florida Grand Opera., Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and The Historic Stranahan House Museum. It is supported by the Broward County Board of County Commissioners as recommended by the Broward Cultural Council and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Visitors Bureau. Evening performances are Tuesday - Saturday at 8:00pm and Sundays at 7:30pm. Matinee performances are Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts houses the Au-Rene Theater, the Amaturo Theatre, and the Abdo New River Room, and has affiliated venues at the Parker Playhouse, the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center, the Miramar Cultural Center and the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center. For any of the offerings of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts you may contact them by phone at 954-462-0222 or online at www.browardcenter.org.
This Broadway Across America - Ft. Lauderdale production of War Horse is presented in arrangement with the Florida Theatrical Association, which is a non-profit, civic organization with a volunteer board of trustees established to ensure the continued presentation of quality national touring Broadway productions in the state of Florida. Broadway Across America is dedicated to creating memorable and accessible theatrical experiences for all guests, selling over 5 million tickets to first rate Broadway shows, family productions and other live theatrical events in over 40 North American cities each year. For more information or to purchase tickets through an authorized agent, please visit www.broadwayacrossamerica.com.