‘War Horse’ on Broadway: What did the critics think?
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‘War Horse’ made its U.S. debut this week at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center in New York. The World War I drama about a young man and his steed has been a hit in London, where it premiered at the National Theatre a few years ago and has since become a smash on the West End.
The play is based on the children’s book by Michael Morpurgo, adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford. The U.S. premiere features much of the same creative team as London, with life-like puppets created by the Handspring Puppet Company to represent the play’s four-legged characters.
A film version of ‘War Horse,’ directed by Steven Spielberg, is expected to be released in late December. The play is scheduled to open at the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A. in 2012.
American critics have praised the production’s puppetry and visual design. But not everyone is convinced that the play is a masterpiece.
Ben Brantley of the New York Times was impressed by the puppetry work but noted that the play is ‘steeped in boilerplate sentimentality. Beneath its exquisite visual surface, it keeps pushing buttons like a sales clerk in a notions shop.’ Despite some strong performances, much of the play ‘evaporates not long after it ends.’ The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones described the production as visually ‘extraordinary’ while conceding that ‘this is not a literary epic on a par with great British drama, for sure — ‘War Horse’ has its share of neat contrivances and less-than-subtle moralizing.’ Without the puppets, the play ‘would probably have stayed at home.’
David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter was more unequivocal with his praise, writing that the ‘Broadway transfer makes tremendous use of the deep stage and various aisles of Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre, creating a spectacle both intimate and epic.’ The production has ‘the uplifting power to make lifelong converts. For more seasoned theatergoers, it has the elegance and inventiveness to erase the jaded memories of dozens of more cynical entertainments.’
The New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli called the production a ‘magnificent, exhilarating feat,’ adding that ‘what makes the show so powerful is the way the storytelling and the stagecraft are intricately melded.’ In the end, ‘War Horse’ ‘isn’t sentimental: It’s just not afraid to be emotional.’
Scott Brown of New York magazine wrote that the production is ‘the greatest achievement in large-scale mainstream puppetry since ‘The Lion King.’ ' However, the play contains its share of ‘stock stick figures... The more horselike the puppet became, the more puppetlike I found the human actors.’
— David Ng