Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"War Horse" a Unique Epic at Broward Center


“War Horse” Unique, Epic Story of Love and War

By Skip Sheffield

“War Horse” is unlike any usual theatrical presentation this year or any other. This moving story of a boy and his horse continues through May 19 at Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale.
“War Horse” is almost like an extended dance, with amazingly intricate choreography intermixed with agile, athletic puppetry, interacting wordlessly with human actors. The story is based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s story which was adapted to the stage by Nick Stafford and debuted in London in 2007. It also is the basis of Steven Spielberg’s award-winning 2011 live action film.
The story is much like the traditional, sentimental children’s tales “Black Beauty,” “National Velvet’ and “Lassie Come Home,” except in this case it is set in the ghastly, grisly time of World War I in Europe.
Spielberg used real horses in his epic movie. This stage play, based on choreography and movement by Toby Sedgwick, uses ingenious life-size puppets created by Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa.
We were seated right down front in the third row. On one hand that is good because we could see clearly the actors and their subtle expressions. On the other hand it is not so good to be so close because you can see the puppeteers inside the horse puppets manipulating the beautiful machines and creating the horse sounds with three human voices working on concert. It blunts the illusion.
There are a lot of explosions, bright lights, loud noises and gunpowder smells sitting so close, as the show recreates the horrors of being in the trenches in France, battling the German forces of the Kaiser. Be forewarned of the racket, flash and smoke.
The story begins in 1912 with the birth of a beautiful horse witnessed by a 14-year-old boy named Albert Narracott (Alex Morf). The production has incidental music throughout reminiscent of the period. Particularly appealing is the recurring them “All Be Remembered for What We Have Done.” Nathan Koci and John Milosich are fine strolling troubadours.
When the colt comes up for sale two years later, a bidding war arises between the brothers Arthur Narracott (Brian Keane) and Ted Narracott (Todd Cerveris). There is an intense rivalry and some bitterness between the brothers. Arthur boasts of his battle experiences in the Boer War, though it was Ted who was the real hero, wounded in action and left lame. Ted uses alcohol to ease his pain. Sometimes it gets the best of him, as it does when he recklessly wins the bid at 39 guineas- an enormous sum at the time.
Albert literally falls in love with his fine Thoroughbred horse, which he names Joey. When Great Britain is forced into the war against Germany, Ted agrees to sell Joey to an army officer (Jason Loughlin) for 100 pounds. At 16 Albert is too young to enlist. Eventually he will lie about his age and elist, only to witness firsthand the horrors and sorrows of hand-to-hand combat.
Alex Morf is a very emotive actor who bears a striking resemblance to a young Ronnie Howard. “War Horse” is also a story of repeated loss of Albert’s best friends and comrades. If it weren’t for its upbeat cliff-hanger resolution, it would be almost unbearable. Instead it is inspirational and a marvel of a very large group of talented people working together in perfect concert.
Tickets are $39.50-$89.50 ($119.50 Club Section. Call 954-462-0222 or go to

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