War Horse at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Review By Deborah McMaster

My friend and I fell in love with Joey within a few minutes of meeting him. Through a comical incident of one-upmanship, Joey came to live with Albert who took great care of him. Joey’s spirit was seen in the move of his head, his switchy tail and reactive ears. Over the next two years we frolic and grow with Joey and Albert in Great Britain just before World War I.

Photo by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

We are one of the townspeople as Joey is unfairly taken off to battle and we are one of the infantry as Albert the desperate teenager follows the fighting to find his beloved horse.

Time, place and weather are creatively projected on a cloud shaped screen hanging above the stage. The wind blew and the birds flew. At one point it was raining on the screen and the horse on the stage actually looked wet. Lighting plays a major role in fading players onto and off the stage, and in bringing the action of war to every seat.

If this version of the story involved long discourses on war and dirges from beginning to end I was concerned that it would have been hard for me to stay awake. It didn’t, and in fact I was so mesmerized I wouldn’t have needed the intermission. There was constant action on the stage and the pace of the scenes had an excellent balance. I cannot find words to describe the music. It must suffice to say that it was pretty yet suitable, and definitely enhanced the overall production.

Photo by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

There are two cautions that may be helpful to know in advance. First, during some war scenes there is some repeated implied profanity. The second is that there are some very loud sound effects throughout the show.

As keen parents and teachers are already aware, any event can be a springboard for education. This is particularly applicable with this production, and there is a 33 page educational guide available for download on the website. The most obvious opportunity for teaching is that the story takes us to Europe during the time of World War I. Cultural differences and International Relations can be explored, as well as things like a horse’s role in a war. Another opportunity is exploring the world of stage production such as set design, lighting and special effects.

One of the most impressive things about this production, though, and another avenue for learning, is the puppetry. There are birds, a cute goose, and of course, the horses. The horses are specially constructed, and each is operated by two people inside. Several of the actors actually mount and “ride” on these horses. Since the audience can see the operators inside, it is fascinating to watch a person moving one way but the outward appearance is that the horse is moving another.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable and moving play.  Click here for details on showtimes, tickets and directions.

Disclosure:  I was issued complimentary tickets to review this production.  The ideas and opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Broadway in Philadelphia: War Horse Open Nov 27th
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