I’ve often felt that it must be unfair to be a little boy on a trip to New York City. While your sister clamors over musicals like Wicked or Mary Poppins or heartthrob Nick Jonas in How to Succeed, young boys that aren’t inclined to watch the spectacle of The Lion King are usually left rolling their eyes at the overload of sugary choruses like Galinda’s “Popular” that their little sister will sing for days to come.
But lately the Great White Way has opened little pockets up for boys to revel in theatre magic without swallowing a spoonful of sugar or sitting in between parents who flinch at every innuendo or obscenity. WarHorse at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont stage is one such pocket.
Based on Michael Morpurgo’s seemingly forgotten children’s book, WarHorse is the story of a young boy named Albert whose beloved horse Joey is sold into war by Albert’s alcoholic father. From the officer who sketches the magnificent Joey to sprinkling of characters affected by the war to the charming British folk songs that bind the scenes together, the play brings the book to a stunning, fanciful life.
Rae Smith’s simple set leaves the trimmings up to the imaginations of the audience, which was swarming with young children and adults alike when I saw it. Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones designed these fancifully life-like equine creatures that move with such grace (thanks to Toby Sedgwick’s movement direction) they elicit many approving gasps and exclamations of ‘cool!’ from the audience.
Child or adult, these puppets make it impossible to stop watching.
The plot never strays from the show’s title – Boy gets horse. Boy loves horse. Horse goes to war. Boy follows horse. You can imagine the heartwarming ending.
Andrew Durand plays this obsessive 16-year-old with an affection that might even pull a small tear from the stoniest audience member assuming that they remember the undying love a child has for their first pet. But his is the only performance that adds humanity to the show, most characters fulfill stereotypes with the exception of Joey’s newfound friend in the German officer Friedrich Miller (David Lansbury). This is a show about a boy, his horse and World War I – that’s it. Don’t expect anything richer than a beautiful picture book.
I couldn’t help but wish I could adopt the mindset of an 11-year-old boy, who might not think it’s weird that a 16-year-old boy spends three years chasing a horse through the war. Who might not agree with Albert’s friend who teases Albert when he speaks fondly of his girl back home and Albert shows off pictures of a horse. An 11-year-old boy who thinks it’s cool that huge, mechanical guns were onstage right in front of them and wouldn’t grow tired of watching a horse run through the war (or in circles on the stage).
But as a young woman, more than a decade past the appropriate age and having never been especially fond of horses, I found myself wanting to shout out in agreement with soldiers when they cursed the bloody war. Bloody war! You’re doggone right, bloody war! Where’s my post-show cocktail?
As a work of theatre, I am pleased that Warhorse exists. If I had a little boy I would be thrilled that I could introduce him to the magic of stagecraft and I imagine I would swell in a way similar to the woman in front of me, whose pre-adolescent son snuggled up next to her and said, “This is so cool, Mom.” Even still, after the show, over a bottle of wine, my mom and I shared a somewhat more adult moment when we complained of the lack of subplot or rich characters, I said, “I’m glad you’re here. That was really cool, Mom.”
Take your little boys if you have ’em, or try to adopt a child-like attitude and the price of the ticket might be worth it.