“War Horse” – ASU Gammage

This review aired on KBAQ February 7, 2013


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

The brilliant “War Horse” has finally arrived here in an exemplary touring production at ASU Gammage.  It rivals the masterful London version.

The recent film was certainly good but “War Horse” belongs on stage where it is brought to life with magnificent, puppet-like horses that makes the lead horse, Joey, a sweepingly grand incarnation that has the audience almost believing they are seeing a real animal.  The stage horses – there are others besides Joey – possess a multitude of subtle movements and they even appear to breathe requiring frequent wakeup calls so you realize that these are not dynamically trained animals.

“War Horse” is the touching tale of the impoverished Narracott family headed by Ted, a bully, who runs rough shod over his son Albert.  To get back at his brother, Arthur, Ted outbids Arthur and purchases a horse.  To buy the horse, Ted uses scarce resources that should have paid the mortgage.  Neither of Albert’s parents initially understands the wisdom of buying the horse that Albert names Joey.  Joey is remarkable and, against all odds, learns to plow.  Ted sells Joey to the cavalry to serve in World War I shattering his promise not to sell Joey and risking the horse’s life.  Albert enlists to watch over Joey.  They both survive.  “War Horse” has a strong anti-war statement.

It’s a touching, engrossing, moving, and deeply involving story.  Even if you’ve seen it, you can’t help but be drawn into the story and Albert’s devotion to Joey.  But the play could be maudlin if not delivered as brilliantly as this fine road company does here.  The cast is artful as they draw rich characters.  Singling out anyone is silly because everyone is perfect but mention should be made of Andrew Veenstra’s touchingly insightful Albert, Angela Reed’s amazingly perceptive Rose, the mother, who is able to play both Albert and Ted with aplomb.  Todd Cerveris’ gruff bully of a father is also strong as was understudy Mat Hostetler’s strong Lieutenant James Nicholls on opening night who takes an interest in both Joey and Albert.

The play was brilliantly staged originally by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris.  Bijan Sheibani has recreated it flawlessly for the tour.  The sets, often just sketchy cutouts, serve the story perfectly as they focus attention on the script and the relationship between Albert and Joey.

“War Horse” is the best theater I’ve seen at ASU Gammage in several years.  It only plays through Sunday, February 10.  For tickets, call the Ticketmaster box office at 1-800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: A