5 Things, Good and Bad, About War Horse

A few more shows are closing up shop in the next few weeks as a bevy of shows prepare to open in the Fall. Now would be a good time to check in on the show that is very much in-line with the Broadway experience even if it is worlds away at Lincoln Center.

War Horse, still running at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, is…well, it’s War Horse. Strong in some elements while lacking in others, I always find myself on the grounds of defending the show. Here are 5 things you should know about the show, Albert and his horse Joey and why they make for a occasionally-winning combination.

We don't see you...people controlling
the horse heads. Perfect camouflage.
-- First off, the Vivian Beaumont Theater is amazing. Semi-circle style seating when paired with the large, black, revolving stage and the wonderful set pieces create the era-appropriate setting perfectly. Sure, the audience blocking is far form impeccable – something I have noticed from seeing the show in two different parts of the theater – but at least the appeal of the theater is not wasted.

-- The horse puppeteering is astounding and by far, the biggest factor in why this show is so memorable. The sound effects and mannerisms are so spot-on, it puts the audience in its place to start building that emotional response to seeing a horse panic or experience pain. We also have the bonus of ducks and geese flouncing around, mostly from some comedic relief. You never quite loose the sight of the puppeteers presence as they are usually dressed in some color-coordinated uniform. But I don’t see how else the show can be realized unless you found a really good animal trainer and used real animals. I have to admit, that could be pretty funny. If a goose went off book and attacked an audience member mid-show, I would just die.

-- Now on-to the book…yes, it has its flaws. They mostly stem conceptually as the show combines a “kid and his animal companion” family-faire with a “WWI action movie” aesthetic. It’s Air Bud (with a lot less basketball) meets All Quiet on the Western Front. It asks the question, “who is this show for really?” My answer…no such audience exists. Or at least one beyond the animal-loving, war aficionados out there, the tens of them that exist.

-- But the way I see it, the show really only struggles conceptually (something that the film adaptation exacerbated). Execution-wise, it is a suitable follow-up to the plot (again, the staging helps), as we watch essentially two different shows tied together by Joey the Horse and Albert. It is not all bad – a little predictable at parts, a pacing issue or three here or there – but the worse you can say is that the show is basically one long waiting game waiting for the next time Albert and Joey are to interact again. Each one’s path on its own doesn’t hold up well at certain times and the ones that involve neither are bland or boring.

-- There is a reason for that...Albert and Joey are the heart of the show. Because the connection they establish feels authentic and the set-up in the beginning – watching the two meet, interact, lift the other’s spirit up - leads to all the right payoffs. Even if you are not leaking tears into a bucket, it’s endearing and has a lite-charm to it. Sometimes, that is all it takes…just enough of a reaction to intrigue you for the rest of the show. Sure, there are a couple of road blocks along the way, but when the central relationship works and the puppeteering is so clever, you realize that this so-so book (at best) was bumped up into the memorable column when it had to no right to be.

Tickets Provided by the Production

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