I should begin this review by mentioning I never saw the 2011 film "War Horse," directed by Steven Spielberg as an adaptation of British author Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel set before and during World War I.
So when Broadway In Chicago and the National Theatre's stage epic "War Horse" opened Tuesday for a Chicago run until Jan. 5, 2013 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. in Chicago, it was my first introduction to what now ranks as one of my favorite ticket-prices tales.
"War Horse," winner of five 2011 Tony Awards including Best Play, is the powerful story of young man named Albert and his beloved horse, Joey.
Albert is played by the versatile and talented Andrew Veenstra, who makes his every emotion believable.
It begins with imaginative farm scenes as Joey must adapt to life as a workhorse.
Then, enlisted to fight for the English in World War I, both Albert and Joey are caught in enemy crossfire and end up serving both sides of the war before landing in the confusion of the war finale. There are a few stirring music moments and songs to help move the story along. But the sweeping staging and innovative stagecraft during this two and half hour journey is enough to capture audience attention.
Because it is set during the war and the the explosions and machine gun fire can be startling, I'd suggest it's best suited for children 12 and older.
The tour of "War Horse," adapted by Nick Stafford, is directed by Bijan Sheibani, based on the original Tony Award-winning direction by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, and presented in association with Handspring Puppet Company.
Heaped praise is deserved for puppeteers Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton and Rob Laqui, who presence melts away to allow the "real" horse to emerge by the finish of the first scenes. (A Special Tony Award was given to Handspring Puppet Company for their integral work on the production.)
I was less impressed with actress Lavita Shaurice as the little French girl Emilie, because of a forced little girl voice she uses for the role.
"War Horse" received its world premiere in a limited engagement at the National's Olivier Theatre in 2007. The play returned to the National Theatre for a second run playing from 2008-2009 before transferring to the West End's New London Theatre in Spring 2009 where it continues to play an open-ended run. I'm told "War Horse" has been seen by more than 2 million people worldwide.
The lead producers of the national tour are Bob Boyett and the National Theatre of Great Britain.
"War Horse" is a warm and welcomed addition to our holiday stage offerings in the Windy City that should be explored. There's a happy ending and along the way, there's something more to be learned about life's battles.