The biggest question for Broadway in Chicago following its triumphant opening of the five-time Tony-awarded play, “War Horse,” is: why only three weeks?
The moniker “theatrical magic,” bestowed by the New York Times on 2011 Tony’s Best Play is perfect. If this production at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre doesn’t satisfy critics who clamor for “fresh” or “cutting edge,” they ought to find other work.
“War Horse,” is based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo and brought to cinematic life by Steven Spielberg. It’s a boy-loves-his-horse, dad-sells-boy’s-horse, underaged-boy-enters-army-to-find-and-save-horse tale set against the backdrop of a rural English village becoming embroiled in World War I. Find a full synopsis here.
With this sentimental story, the audience is exposed to the harsh realities of war, provided insight into familial and community relationships of early 1900s England and, ultimately treated to the love story of Albert, played by Andrew Veenstra, and his cherished horse Joey.
All of this is made possible by puppet designers Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, of South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. They are the magicians who mold cane, aluminum, carbon fiber glass, Tyvek and bicycle brake cables into the breathing, feeling beast audiences weep for.
And while the ultra-professional ensemble cast to be expected of a national touring company is exemplary and pitch-perfect, the onstage puppeteers take the final bow. It takes some getting used to watching actors manipulate the horses, birds and barnyard animals (including one hilarious rolling goose). But the best advice to incoming patrons is, prepare to suspend disbelief generously.
When that happens, puppeteers morph from machinists to life-givers, becoming not only the voices, but soulful extensions of the creatures entrusted to their care.
It’s this emotional, almost divine, connection between humans and animals that joins story and presentation to make “War Horse” must-see theater.
So why is it only in Chicago for three weeks?