When Christopher Mai describes himself as the "head puppeteer" for the team that brings the four-legged bridle star Joey to life for the national Broadway tour of "War Horse," he admits it can sound a little confusing.
"I think when people hear me say I'm the head puppeteer they think: 'Oh, he's the puppeteer captain, rather than realizing I'm the puppeteer operating the head of Joey on stage," said Mai, who hails from San Francisco.
Since April, he's been training to work in unison with Derek Stratton, the "heart puppeteer" of Joey and Rob Laqui the "hind quarters puppeteer."
After what the trio describes as two-week "puppet boot camp" in New York City, they joined the human cast in rehearsals to prepare for the June 29 launch of the "War Horse" Broadway national tour in Los Angeles.
Broadway In Chicago and the National Theatre's stage epic "War Horse" is ready to gallop in for a Chicago run Dec. 18 to Jan. 5, 2013 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St. in Chicago.
And just announced, there will be a "Heroes Night at the Theatre" honoring members of the military, police and fire department at the 7:30 p.m. Dec. 23 performance. Patrons with valid military, fire and police IDs will be able to purchase $25 tickets to see "War Horse" (limit four tickets per ID). Use code HERO when ordering online, over the phone, or in person at any Broadway In Chicago box office or Ticketmaster outlet.
"War Horse," winner of five 2011 Tony Awards including Best Play, is based on Michael Morpurgo's novel of the same name, and also the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's feature film of the same name, which garnered six Oscar nominations including Best Picture.
It's the powerful story of young Albert's beloved horse, Joey, who has been enlisted to fight for the English in World War I. Joey is caught in enemy crossfire and ends up serving both sides of the war before landing in "no man's land." Albert, not old enough to enlist, embarks on a treacherous mission to find his horse and bring him home. What follows is a remarkable tale of courage, loyalty and friendship, filled with stirring music and songs and told with the some of the most innovative stagecraft of our time.
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.
At the heart of the show are life-sized puppets which bring breathing, galloping, charging horses to thrilling life on stage.
As for who's responsible for the sounds of Joey, puppeteer Stratton, who is from New York, reveals all three of the men connected with operating the horse puppet frame are equipped with microphones to provide sound effects.
Laqui adds that their training included countless hours reviewing videos, researching books and studying real horses to capture the movement, sounds and actions are the most authentic equine traits.
"I think it helps that we all come from a dance background so we know how to connect and communication through seamless moves, although it's still a process for us and we are always learning," said Laqui, who is originally from Minneapolis.
In addition to Best Play, "War Horse" received Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Play, Best Scenic Design of a Play, Best Lighting Design of a Play, and Best Sound Design of a Play. A Special Tony Award was given to Handspring Puppet Company for their integral work on the production.
"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.