By John Soltes
Lincoln Center Theater’s production of War Horse, transferred over from London’s National Theatre, is a marvel to behold. Its sheer artistry is something Broadway hasn’t seen since The Lion King.
Based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo, the three-hour play tells the tale of Albert (Seth Numrich) and the horse that his father wins at an auction in town. The little boy names the steed Joey, and a devoted friendship is instantly triggered. The two become inseparable around the family farm.
It’s only when Albert’s father sells Joey to be a battle horse on the front lines in World War I that the pangs of despair set in. Just like Old Yeller, the little boy, now a young man, needs to say goodbye to his trusted confidante.
The play continues with startling imagery as Joey makes his way through the tortured landscapes of the continental war. Albert, much like the horse, joins the military as well, and we watch as these two friends, still separated, struggle with their newfound homes.
Perhaps the most revelatory detail of War Horse is the creative, life-size puppets that are used to depict Joey and the other horses. Manned by several actors, the horses are a cacophony of metal bars and meshed fabric. Their ears twitch. They can gallop. They can rise up onto their hind legs. They are a sight to see, and surely the most memorable facet of this otherwise brilliant production.
The story is serviceable, but directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris stage the two-act play on an epic scale. Every inch of the thrust stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre is used to portray either battlefields or the farm homestead. War Horse is quite the transporting production.
Nick Stafford’s adaptation from the original novel is nicely written, even though he elevates the proceedings to often scary dimensions (what should feel like entertainment for children proves to be quite the adult fare). The sets and costumes are beautifully realized by Rae Smith.
The actors are all solid, and they never get lost among their colleagues (the company numbers 30 actors).
But the real star of War Horse begins and ends with Joey and the amazing puppetry by the Handspring Puppet Company. Bet on this play, and you’ll likely win.
A production of Lincoln Center Theatre
Directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris
Adapted by Nick Stafford
Based on a book by Michael Morpugo
Starring Seth Numrich, Joby Earle and Jeslyn Kelly
Playing at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at 150 W. 65th St. (between Broadway and Amsterdam)
Click here for more information.
Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes
Bubble score: 4 out of 4