Wednesday, September 26, 2012

War Horse Scores Big at ATL's Fox Theatre

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Look at the image above.  I'm sure what you are looking at cannot compare to what my eyes witnessed last night at Atlanta's famous Fox Theatre.

Last night, I was given an incredible opportunity to see the stage play, War Horse.  I have only one word to say - WOW.  I think that sums it up, and at the same time, it is an incredible understatement.

Most of you, I am sure, are familiar with the story of War Horse.  After all, in 2011,  Steven Spielberg adapted this stage play into a $66 million dollar movie using real horses and spectacular landscapes.  (His version of the play went on to earn SIX Academy Award nominations.)

Originally, however, War Horse was written as a children's novel, published in 1982, by Michael Mopurgo.
"A powerful tale of war, redemption, and a hero's journey.

In 1914, Joey, a beautiful bay-red foal with a distinctive cross on his nose, is sold to the Army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, he charges toward the enemy, witnessing the horror of the battles in France. But even in the desolation of the trenches, Joey's courage touches the soldiers around him and he is able to find warmth and hope. But his heart aches for Albert, the farmer's son he left behind. Will he ever see his true master again?"
It was from this children's novel that two directors from England's Royal National Theatre turned the story into a play, collaborating with the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa.

I was a little hesitant to go see the play having seen the movie already.  Why?  Well, mainly for two reasons:  (1) I am an animal lover, and I wasn't sure I could emotionally handle the drain on my emotions again - watching Joey, the main horse character, go through the many trials, tribulations, and abuse one more time, and (2) this story is pretty dark for the most part, and I wasn't sure I wanted to sit through a night of depressing story lore.

Cue - last night.  So glad I went; so glad War Horse proved my preconceived notions false.  Yes, it still has animal abuse, trials, and tribulations; yes, it is still a dark war-time story...but it is told in such a magnificent and talented way, you once again get swept away into Arthur Narracott and Joey's World War I story of falling in love, being separated, and eventually coming back together.

In fact, the puppeteers are so good, you forget you are even watching a puppet.  As Jon Ludwig from the Center for Puppetry Arts says, "Joey is the Marlon Brando of puppets."  (I loved that the horses came out at the end of the stage play for "their" curtain call.)  To say this play is amazing is, again, an understatement.

Joey and Topthorn, the second featured horse in this play, both required the work of three puppeteers, each with specific positions and nicknames.  The puppeteers in last night's performance - Danny Yoerges, Brian Robert Burns, and Gregory Manley (for Joey) and Jon Riddleberger, Patrick Osteen, and Jessica Krueger (for TopThorn) - were incredibly talented and controlled each horse's Head, Heart, and Hind movements.

Two of the puppeteers not only had to support the horses' 100-pound frames (they are literally the size of real horses), but at times, they also had to support the 100-plus pound actors that rode them!

While the horse puppets in this play are garnering all the media attention, let's not forget this play has won FOUR Tony Awards.  The actors and actresses in this play all bring their characters to life stunningly.

One thing I did notice last night was that there were a few children in the audience.  Please use care and your best parental judgment if you are taking your children to see this play. The first half seemed fine for children and even a small amount of humor was mixed in from time to time, but the second half (for me anyway) seemed to drag in parts, was much darker than the first half (due to all the war scenes), and contained one bloody scene (via the screen above the stage, which quickly turned into red flowers) and more than a fair share of cuss words (mind you, this is a British story, so the word "effin'" was used quite a bit in the second half).

Also, if you are going to see this play, keep in mind it is not your usual stage play.  There is virtually no set, which - for me - was a quite a contrast from the last show I reviewed ("The King and I") which employed massive and lavish sets and costumes.  War Horse (as you can see from the pictures above) uses no set and only a handful of actors.  There is a small horizontal screen above the stage which shows "artist-rendering"-type pictures to help tell the story and set the scenes, but that is about it.  Each scene is introduced by a lone song man instrumentalist (Nathan Koci, a multi-instrumentalist and singer making his theatrical debut) and song man (John Milosich,

If you are fine with these things, you are in for a treat.  Here is a small clip from the play to showcase the amazing acting talent, theatrics, and puppetry:

Tickets for WAR HORSE begin at $33 and are available through authorized ticket sellers at the Fox Theatre Box Office, on-line at, or by phone at 1-855-ATL-TIXX.  Orders for groups of ten (10) or more may be placed by calling 404.881.2000.

WAR HORSE will play in Atlanta at the Fox Theatre September 26-30.
The performance schedule is Wednesday-Saturday evening at 8 p.m.; Saturday matinee at 2PM.; and Sunday at 1PM, and 6:30PM.

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*Special thank you to Alex Hutchens and BRAVE PR for media night review opportunity! Ticker

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