Saturday August 19th 2017

“WarHorse”

Highly Recommended*****A boy and his pet! How many stories have been told over the years about a young lad ( in some cases, a lassie) and his closeness to his dog ( Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin) or his horse ( Flicka, Black Beauty). Broadway in Chicago now is featuring the National Touring company’s production of the Tony Award winning “War Horse” based on the novel (Michael Morpurgo) which then became Steven Spielberg’s beloved movie and then was brought to the U.S.  stage last year. What makes this production so special is that the focus is more on the horse than the boy in this beloved relationship between Albert ( delightfully played by Andrew Veenstra) and his horse Joey, who came to be in the family through  a bidding war between two brothers and became Albert’s responsibility. Now here is where this production becomes “special”. The horse, in fact many of them used in this show, are puppets, but not “just puppets”- enchanting magical beasts that after just a few minutes begin to become real as they gallop and trot on the stage and down the aisles at The Cadillac Palace Theatre. Of course, Joey is the main horse as we watch him go from Foal to full size “War Horse”.

The story takes place in England, during what became World War I where Albert’s father sells Joey to the army for the Calvary. Albert is unable to enlist as he is under age. Joey does a fine job and is later taken over by the “other side”. As the years go by, many fall in love with him as Albert has done in his youth. Albert, as he reaches legal age enlists and heads off, not just to do battle, but to reunite with his beloved Joey. Joey ends up serving both sides during the war, and Joey begins to lose faith that he will never find Joey again.                                            

When the both end up in what is termed “no man’s land” ( neutral territory) Albert as a wounded soldier who has tear gas in his eyes, allowing for temporary blindness, and Joey as what appears to be a horse who has been wounded ( they shoot these animals, as the humane thing to do) they are very near each other. The gun that was to take Joey’s life jams and then Albert makes a sound, one that he used for training Joey as a foal and Joey realizes that his “best friend” is there. They are reunited and head home for a happy ending. This is a wonderful story, a sort of love story, that deals with courage, loyalty, devotion , friendship and of course a special kind of love.    

I would imagine, based on what i know of the book and film of this story that the depth of feeling would be for the boy Albert first and then the horse. I felt that the way this story is told, the audience sees Joey as the main character and his young human, the second banana. This is a unique piece of theater, a true theatrical experience with some enchanting puppetry that is amazing. The puppets never appear to be puppets- they are horses ( there is also a great Duck and some lovey birds) but it is Joey and the others that make this experience so very special.The Handspring Puppet Company brings these life size, very realistic puppets alive with the use of many puppeteers. Just to give you an idea; Joey weighs in at 120 pounds, it can be ridden by a full size human and the frame is designed with an aluminum spine. he puppeteer at the head controls the ears and head movement, another in the heart controls the breathing and front legs and a third in the tail controls same and rear legs. The tail an dears are movable, making Joey’s expressions very life-like. The ears are controlled by bicycle hand brakes and the horse has 20 major joints that can  move. These are important facts that will make what you see more realistic. What you see will amaze and astound you!

The sheer artistry of the lighting and sound along with the video projections that make this story unfold with great power along with the cast of players and of greatest importance some slick puppets and puppeteers that will be a great theater memory for years to come. Over the years. since the computer has worked its way into “live “theater, we have seen some amazing special effects, but 

“WarHorse is only here through January 5th  at The Cadillac Palace Theatre ( to get specific dates and order tickets, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com or call the Broadway Ticketline at 1-800-775-2000, visit any of the Broadway In Chicago box offices, the kiosk at Water Tower Place, all Ticketmaster Outlets or www.BroadwayInChicago.com

Tickets range from $30, but as far as age group, I would suggest the little ones be left at home with a sitter. This is a 2 1/2 hour production with lots of guns being shot and in the wake of recent events, younger kids may be afraid.

The Cadillac Palace Theatre is located at 151 West Randolph Street. To learn more, you can visit www,warhorseonstage.com

to see what other area reviewers thought, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click on “WarHorse”

 

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