Gratuitous Violins rating: ***1/2 out of ****
I've been looking forward to War Horse for about two years, ever since I saw a video of the original production from Britain's National Theatre, with its stunningly lifelike horse puppets.
In some ways, the show lived up to my expectations - the horses are amazing. The story, unfortunately, pulled up a bit lame. Still, as theatre War Horse gets high marks from me for sheer inventiveness.
The play is adapted from a children's novel by British author Michael Morpurgo. It takes place in an English village just before World War I and then moves to the battlefields of France as war breaks out.
I also thought War Horse was very effective in showing how World War I became a watershed in the sad history of human conflict. We know what the characters don't realize - that soldiers on horseback will be no match for the tanks and other weaponry of modern warfare.
Where I thought the story got bogged down was in Act II. Joey is captured by a German officer, played by Peter Hermann, who ends up befriending a young French girl and her mother. That part struck me as overly cloying. Morpurgo has said that he wanted wanted to show the suffering on all sides but I thought it pushed Albert off to the side for too long.
(I have to give a shoutout to one of the puppeteers. Jude Sandy is a Brown/Trinity Rep MFA graduate who I saw in A Raisin in the Sun. He's the first Trinity Rep actor I've seen on Broadway. He's also a dancer and I can see where that training would be invaluable for the intricate equine choreography.)
I'll admit that I got a little teary at the ending but where I really felt emotional was the curtain call, when Joey and Topthorn, their manes flying, took one last magnificent gallop around the stage.